If industry awards are a form of validation, then the nearly 100 employees at Wendt’s Dairy in Niagara Falls, NY are feeling mighty good these days. It has consistently placed in the top five in the New York State Milk Quality Improvement Program’s milk judging competition for years. And with nearly two dozen processing plants competing for the blue ribbon, winning top honors is no mean feat. But last summer, Wendt’s became the first dairy ever to win with a perfect score of 100. The unprecedented tally generated a good deal of attention from industry media and quite a few smiles from the folks at Wendt’s.

Sponsored by the New York Milk Promotion Order in cooperation with Cornell University’s Department of Food Science, the annual competition involves running myriad tests on hundreds of milk samples from dairies across New York state. Testing criteria include shelf-life stability and bacteria counts using well-known metrics such as the seven-day Mosely. But the real proof is in the taste buds, as each sample is analyzed for flavor twice by a panel of experts from Cornell’s Department of Food Science. The competition culminates with an awards presentation on Dairy Day at the New York State Fair. Winning with a perfect score made accepting the gold medal and blue ribbon all the sweeter for General Manager Jim Miklinski, Plant Manager Frank Buzzelli Jr. and Quality Control Manager Bill Bryan.

So how does a mild-mannered dairy capture the kudos and admiration of its milk-processing peers with an impossibly difficult perfect score? The folks at Wendt’s attribute it to a commitment to raising their standards as high as possible. They’ve been honing those standards for more than 70 years as the wholly-owned fluid dairy processing facility for the Niagara Milk Cooperative, which is comprised of 180 farms in western New York state.

Many of Wendt’s key personnel seem to have milk running through their veins. Frank Buzzelli, for example, is a second generation Wendt’s employee, and Bill Bryan has been with Wendt’s nearly 30 years. That kind of experience goes a long way in knowing what needs to be done to inch that bar up. And they’ll be the first to tell you that it’s never any one thing, but rather constant little improvements throughout the entire production process.

That’s where Ecolab’s products and services come in. Wendt’s has been a loyal Ecolab customer since 1991 and has had great success with their CIP systems and sanitizers. “Consistency is the key,” says Buzzelli. “That’s why processors are reluctant to switch suppliers. It’s not always an easy decision to adopt change because there’s always the fear of losing quality—and your customers. We were doing quite well and were satisfied overall with our quality level, but we really wanted to go that extra step and be as good as it can possibly get.”

“We had a comfort level with Ecolab,” Bryan adds. “It wasn’t about saving a few bucks. Nobody changes suppliers just to save a few bucks and risk losing quality. We bit the bullet and invested in new equipment and products because Ecolab offered so much more in terms of products and services. They really know how to work with you and tailor their products to your needs.”

Wendt’s started with an Ecolab MP-2100 CIP controller along with other Ecolab cleaners and sanitizers. In August of 2003, they updated their CIP system with an Ecolab Engineering CIP skid, complete with a shell-and-tube heat exchanger. According to Buzzelli, “Ecolab’s CIP system really took us to the next level, enabling us to better monitor conductivity, flow and temperature during every wash cycle. It really has improved our day-to-day operations.”

Bruce Bauer, Ecolab Account Manager has seen the changes firsthand, having spent lots of time in the Wendt’s plant over the years training their sanitation staff on the new equipment and sanitizers. “Our CIP skid with the shell-and-tube heat exchanger was the next step up for Wendt’s. It’s a vast improvement over direct steam injection because it ensures the integrity of your cleaning solution during the entire wash cycle. Plus the new CIP skid makes maintaining the valves on the system a lot easier. It’s just designed that way.”

Wendt’s uses Matrixx as their sanitizer in their post-pasteurized process. Matrixx is Ecolab’s best-in-class, EPA registered peracid sanitizer specially developed to provide efficacy over a wider range of dairy plant operating conditions and sanitizing applications. “We use Matrixx on practically everything through a central system, even in our sprayers on the walls,” Bryan says. “It’s very versatile and convenient.”

Jim Miklinski, Wendt’s general manager won’t say if he thinks they’ll be awarded another perfect score at next summer’s state fair, but he’s confident Wendt’s has the right systems in place to keep raising its standards. “It’s the CIP system and controller. It’s the sanitizers. It’s training and service. It’s your relationship with your suppliers and your commitment to your employees and customers. These are all the things that add up to a blue ribbon, whether or not a perfect score of 100 is attached to it.”