School nutrition directors visit local dairy processing plant

For those looking to source locally, dairy is an easy option.

Country Fresh Livonia Plant | Photo by: Carolyn Thomas, Macomb Intermediate School District
Country Fresh Livonia Plant | Photo by: Carolyn Thomas, Macomb Intermediate School District

On November 10, a group of school nutrition directors embarked on an educational journey through a dairy processing plant in Livonia. This tour was organized by Carolyn Thomas, the school food and nutrition consultant at the Macomb Intermediate School District, who supports all of the nutrition directors in Macomb and St. Clair counties.

This Country Fresh processing facility is one of a handful in the state of Michigan. The Livonia plant only uses milk produced in Michigan, purchased from the Dairy Farmers of America co-op. This plant produces skim, 1 percent, 2 percent and whole white milk. They also produce chocolate and strawberry flavored milk, ice cream mix and orange juice from concentrate. The plant also produces their own plastic gallon and half gallon milk bottles, which they fill with their own milk product.

This plant runs for 24 hours, five days a week, and will run for more days if they need to be producing more volume for any particular reason. The Livonia Country Fresh employs about 200 people between the logistics office and processing plant.

In terms of food safety measures, incoming milk is tested rigorously and throughout the entire duration of processing. The milk that the plant receives has already been tested by the individual farmers and the farmer co-op for pathogens, antibiotics and other potentially hazardous contaminants. If the plant has to reject the shipment of milk, depending on the reason for rejection, the co-op or the individual may have to bear the cost of the entire load of milk. This milk is being shipped in tankers, which can range between 3,000–8,000 gallons, and can be quite costly. This provides a considerable disincentive for the milk producers and the co-op to send milk that could be rejected by the processing facility.

The Livonia Country Fresh location processes and packages the paper pints that school meal programs in Southeastern Michigan serve daily. This facility produces about 1.5 million pints per week, which are mainly used in school lunches! The tour observed the paper pints being assembled on the packaging line and filled with milk.

The school nutrition directors were all engaged and interested in learning more about where their school dairy products are coming from and how they are produced. The group learned that each product has a code associated with its geographic location (26 indicates that it comes from Michigan), and the last three numbers refer to the plant. This code can be found on all dairy products. With a growing interest in sourcing local products and sharing information about food, tours like this one and labeling practices are a strategy to educate students and families about Michigan’s thriving agricultural industry.

Michigan State University Extension supports local institutional sourcing practices and the expansion of markets for local producers. By institutions purchasing more Michigan products, their consumers have access to fresh, healthy options, and Michigan producers experience greater economic opportunities.

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