Westby Creamery’s Lab Team Into Microbe-Management
Jul 08, 2020 (Westby, WI)
At Westby Cooperative Creamery, a commitment to quality is a principled promise that assures safe food makes its way to your table. The responsibility to deliver this safe food falls on the lab team.
At the head of the department is the quality manager Jason Levendoski. He is responsible for overseeing lab operations to guarantee the efficiency and quality of all products and practices.
Levendoski is passionate about his work, and he is continuously searching for areas to improve. “To me, it’s not about pushing out as much product as possible,” Levendoski said. “It’s about making sure it is done right and fits the Creamery’s quality standards that our customers appreciate.”
Thanks to Levendoski and the rest of the lab team, about 99.5% of the product that is manufactured is ready to be sent out as is. However, mistakes do happen and that other 0.5% makes up a product that was not properly made or packaged. Almost all those mistakes are “short fills,” which is exactly how it sounds – the container just did not meet the weight requirement. Levendoski hopes to make that half of a percentage as close to zero as possible.
Levendoski does not do all the work alone. The lab team includes 12 other members, nine of whom are lab technicians and three lab supervisors.
Lab technicians spend a great deal of time testing products, and they also test the machinery used in the plant. The product is tested for things like pH, salt, and fat levels. For example, organic sour cream has an ideal pH of 4.65 and between 18.5 to 19.5 percent butterfat. On the other hand, the machinery is tested for bacteria to make sure that it is properly cleaned and ready for the next batch.
The lab supervisors further enforce the development of the department. Ruth Lee, David Burke, and Tim Ott make up this part of the team, and they all have their own distinctive roles that contribute to the lab’s operations.
As document and compliance specialist, Ruth Lee organizes and prepares documentation as needed, makes sure certifications are up to date and assists the QA manager with meeting audit requirements
Vendor approval is another key part of Lee’s role in the lab. This means she is the gatekeeper for all the ingredients and product that comes in and out of the plant. Everything that is put into Westby products must adhere to strict guidelines; to do so, it is important to know the vendors are providing the Creamery with safe ingredients.
“There are many factors that go into making a safe, quality product, but knowing I play a role in the big equation is something I’m very proud of,” Lee said.
Tim Ott is the sanitation supervisor. In his role, he works with the sanitation procedures in the plant. He monitors the sanitation process to ensure everything is cleaned and ready to go for the next batch. Ott is continuously looking to increase the efficiencies of the sanitation program to reduce overall cost and impact on the environment.
Sanitation is a crucial step in the plant’s operations. “Working in the lab affords me the opportunity to be an integral part of assuring our products are safe and of the highest possible quality for our customers’ consumption,” Ott said.
Although there is a lot of routine process that occurs in the lab, there is also an incredible variety of job duties and tasks. As lab supervisor, David Burke plays a significant part in keeping the team all on the same page. He works to educate, coach, and develop the lab staff. This helps to reduces the chances of any possible errors as well as ensures each team member has the ability to appropriately respond to any situation.
Additionally, he oversees that each product is properly tested to meet customer expectations which are very important to him. “I believe the lab’s rigorous, thorough, and ethical operations are critical to my friends, family, and community. They are all our customers,” Burke said.
Producing award-winning dairy foods is more than just efficient practices and precautionary testing. It is a passion for individuals that make up the Creamery’s lab team.