PhD intern finds new ways to reduce milk waste and support sustainability goals

The words “waste” and “processing plant” are probably not everyday vocabulary for a genetics scholar, but for Massey University student Marc Bailie they quickly became second nature when he joined Goodman Fielder for an internship in December 2021. 

Marc is pictured, centre, with Site Manager Johnny Duff and Continuous Improvement Manager Tania Venter in front of milk processing silos at Goodman Fielder’s Longburn factory.

Marc’s project, funded by the Riddet Institute, is part of a wider industry internship programme aiming to provide students with commercial experiences as they support food businesses with their technical capability. 

The four-month project covered waste identification during the processing of “blue-top” homogenised milk at Goodman Fielder’s Longburn factory, home of the Meadow Fresh milk brand.  Marc followed the homogenised milk through every stage of its journey in the plant, from milk tanker unloading to pasteurisation, and on to the final bottle filling stage ready for dispatch to retailers.

With a background in biochemistry and molecular biology, Marc says production was an entirely alien world. He says he thoroughly enjoyed the work, despite initially not knowing what to expect.

“There have been so many exciting twists and turns. The experience was excellent.

“My mission was to understand milk waste through the factory.”

The job ranged from crawling around on his hands and knees next to trucks to analysing digital systems.  

Although finding the milk production facilities were very efficient and performed far better than predictions and forecasts suggested, Marc says he did identify areas in the production process where milk wastage could be significantly reduced.

“We discovered many ways waste could be created and avoided during our work and took great strides toward helping Goodman Fielder reach their sustainability goals.”

He says they started small, measuring spillage in buckets and discussing ways to improve some of the staff’s basic everyday working practices. By applying data science, the eventual result was finding and preserving hundreds of litres of milk.

“The team at Goodman Fielder was fantastic to work with. They let me run my endless curiosity to completion which took us places I did not expect. It started with milk and ended with a Bill of Material (BoM) and some evidence to motivate a change in direction.

“The experience has been rewarding and intellectually stimulating. It has been wonderful to see our ideas come to life.” 

Goodman Fielder’s Continuous Improvement Manager Tania Venter had only glowing comments about the 17-week internship, saying Marc was great to work with and the project was successful.

“If you know anything about a milk processing plant, tracking waste can be a beast.  Milk is often split into multiple streams with different fat and protein concentrations and then reassembled to produce various different beverages and cultured foods products, which takes waste mass balancing to the next level of difficulty.”

Dr Venter says Marc helped to shed some light on ways to do things slightly differently to enable a better, more sustainable outcome on the project he worked on.

“One thing I liked working with a PhD student from the Riddet Institute, is that he is highly intelligent and an excellent communicator. He analyses data to the finest detail and puts a scientific interpretation on his discoveries. Marc got very excited when he ‘found another piece to the puzzle’ and his convivial personality made it enjoyable for Goodman Fielder staff having him around.”

As part of its ethos of building scientific capability and expertise aligned with industry needs, the Riddet Institute funds a number of placements per year, for around three to six months in length.

The internships provide young scientists practical experience in the corporate workplace and aim to help prepare students for their first graduate employment opportunity in food science or related areas.  Some placements lead to opportunities for permanent employment with the industry partner, but all internships are guaranteed to open up new channels for exploring career options.

For the industry partner the benefits are also diverse. The company gains technical hands-on project support from high-calibre interns as well as the chance to see what the interns can offer long term. 

Marc says the “fantastic team” at Goodman Fielder made the experience one of the best of his working life, and he was sad to be leaving.  “I have however, made friends and connections during this internship who are alerting me to opportunities they think I am suited to in the future.”

For now, he is focusing on completing his PhD on bacterial genetics and their behaviour in selective environments.

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