The “udder” truth about campus milk production

By | May 09, 2012 | News (2)

Business major Mikelle Azevedo (right) is making vanilla ice cream at
the Fresno State dairy. She pours while another student adds vanilla
flavoring. The plant produces milk, cheese and ice cream.
Jeff Phillips / The Collegian

Daniel Avila is an instructional technician at the Fresno State dairy processing plant. For the past 16 years, he has worked closely with students, running the plant as well as instructing laboratory sessions.

His students never “udder” a word about milking the cows. Their job begins in the lab after the milk is picked up for processing.

Avila must pick up the milk from the dairy for delivery; his primary concern is sanitation. He is required to have a sampler’s and weigher’s license to ensure he properly tests the milk for bacteria and antibiotics.

The plant eliminates unwanted bacteria by refrigerating the milk at 45 degrees Fahrenheit or below. Milk can also be pasteurized, or heated to 161 degrees Fahrenheit for 15-20 seconds, killing harmful bacteria.

“Before we use the equipment, we sanitize,” Avila said. You have to follow a certain procedure and be aware of any areas where you could contaminate the milk.”

Avila’s talents as the instructor and manager of the plant are reflected by increased sales. When he started, the plant wasn’t making cheese or sherbet. Around 1997, after applying for grants, the plant started making more cheese and different varieties, including; pepper jack, merlot white cheddar, parmesan and the occasional mozzarella. Of all the flavors, white cheddar is most popular.

Avila manages anywhere from eight to 11 students. He does his best to give the students a fun way to develop new products.

Avila said in addition to food safety, part of learning at the plant is watching your budget.

“Does it sell in this area? Or are we just making something nobody is going to buy?” Avila said.

Before bottling the milk, the students hand label the bottles. On days the plant doesn’t bottle milk, it makes ice cream.

During the processing week, the plant produces about 60 gallons of non-fat and 2 percent milk. It also produces other products, such as butter, as well as seasonal favorites like iced tea in the summer and even eggnog during the holidays.

Crystal Sandovol, a student assistant, helps with the processing of milk products such as ice cream and butter, and delivers the products.  “Making sure to use all sanitation techniques can be the trickiest part,” Sandovol said.

With all these rules and procedures in place, there is ample room to make mistakes.

“Even if there is $10,000 worth of product ruined, they have to tell me. If it’s something that is harmful, not safe, or does not meet regulations, then I have no problem dumping that and taking it down as a learning experience. Our main priority is the safety of the food,” Avila said.

“Mistakes are addressed and given a chance to improve,” Sandovol said.

The products are distributed to areas from Clovis to Reedley. Scoops, Soups and More and Scoops Fine Desserts order ice cream from the plant. Bella Frutta is the only other market besides the school’s farm market to distribute Fresno State products.

“The technician will make sure that nobody else in that area is selling Fresno State items because we don’t want them competing with each other,” said technician assistant Maddie Maximo.

Maximo said it is beneficial Fresno State has all these opportunities for students, especially for those who are not dairy science majors.

“I can go in there and learn something that will be outside of the classroom and could potentially be a career for me,” Maximo said.




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