Cloverland's got milk — and more security, auditing

Baltimore's sole dairy processor tightens safety, sanitation measures to win highest industry rating

  • Cloverland Farms Dairy on Loch Raven Blvd recently upgraded their operations.
Cloverland Farms Dairy on Loch Raven Blvd recently upgraded… (Karl Merton Ferron, Baltimore…)
August 17, 2012|By Gus G. Sentementes, The Baltimore Sun

The four black orbs — dark-tinted security cameras — watch silently overhead in a room filled with stainless-steel pipes. The pipes carry raw milk from four large holding tanks outside the building into two large metal cabinets that look like oversized car radiators.

This is one of the critical points in Cloverland Dairy's production process, where raw milk is pasteurized — heated well above 161 degrees Fahrenheit — and then pumped through pipes into other parts of the Baltimore plant for processing and packaging. It's also a spot that company officials, government regulators and independent auditors want to see thoroughly protected and sanitary, and free from tampering.

The four cameras are part of a network of 37, plus other security and auditing measures, that came with a new round of upgrades that the Baltimore-based dairy recently completed at a cost of more than $250,000.

It's part of keeping the milk supply safe. Cloverland, which traces its roots to a dairy formed by three brothers in West Baltimore in 1919, has been one of the milk industry's regional leaders for decades. It now supplies milk to Safeway and other large and small markets and convenience stores across the Mid-Atlantic.

The new measures added in recent years have helped the company achieve the highest rating from the Safety Quality Foods Institute, an international standards body. About 150 milk processors across the country have the highest rating from the institute.

"Retailers want it," said Ralph C. Kemp, president of Cloverland, whose father, Maynard C. Kemp, was one of the dairy's founders. "You would lose accounts if you didn't do it. It makes us a better facility."

Kemp allowed a Baltimore Sun reporter to tour the milk production facility recently but didn't allow a photographer inside to take pictures of the plant, for security reasons. After the 9/11 attacks, milk production facilities came under scrutiny for their safety and security practices, as concerns grew about terrorists targeting the nation's milk supply.

The company processes and bottles between 800,000 and 900,000 gallons of milk a week, much of which ends up in the refrigerators of millions of people, and in hospitals and school lunch programs across the region. The dairy employs 338 workers at its city plant and at a distribution facility in Salisbury.

Cloverland relies on a network of nearly 200 dairy farms, most in Pennsylvania, that sell their milk and load it onto tanker trucks that wend their way to the company's block-wide plant on Loch Raven Boulevard in Northeast Baltimore. The company is among three or four major distributors that serve Maryland and other Mid-Atlantic markets.

Kemp remembers when there were about 14 dairies that did what his company does. Cloverland bought more than a half-dozen of them since he began running the company in the 1960s.

Cloverland is inspected once a year by the Army, in addition to visits from federal, state and city health and safety inspectors, company officials said.

But the SQFI certification is increasingly important, as major retailers, such as grocery chains, adopt the standards and expect their suppliers to abide by them.

The certification stems from a growing movement that began more than a decade ago as consumers demanded more stringent safety measures in the food-supply chain in response to high-profile food recalls and consumer anxiety.

Food suppliers and distributors around the world formed the Global Food Safety Initiative, which recognizes the SQFI certification process that Cloverland achieved.

The plant has been tightening security for years, adding fencing, automatic gates and, more recently, identification card readers and cameras. Ed Kennedy, director of operations, said that employees who work in some parts of the plant aren't allowed to enter other more secure or critical areas if they're not authorized.

The plant has its own lab so that it can quickly test milk samples from each of the 18 truck deliveries it receives daily. The raw milk is tested for presence of antibiotics and microbacteria; milk containing antibiotics or unacceptable levels of bacteria is returned to the farmer.

The plant also produces ice cream mixture for ice cream producers and retail stores.

In one part of the plant, steel equipment separates fat from the milk in a centrifuge, and then later blends it back in to create 2 percent and 1 percent variations. (The whole milk that Cloverland produces contains 3.25 percent of milkfat by weight.) The dairy also has machines that blend vitamins A and D into the milk.

The big seller right now is 2 percent, said general manager James Cella. But as consumers gravitate to lower-fat products, demand for 1 percent milk is growing, he said.

Demand for organic milk, typically costing more, hasn't grown much, Cella said. The company distributes only about 15,000 gallons a week to stores — less than 2 percent of its weekly production.

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