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Friday, Jul 05 2013 06:00 PM

It's a different world inside the planet's most productive ice cream factory

  1. 1 of 14

    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Wildberry lemonade fruit bars on their way to packaging at the Nestle ice cream plant on District Boulevard.

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  2. 2 of 14

    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Sticks in place, these Outshine strawberry fruit bars will soon be lifted from the mould and moved on to packaging at the Nestle ice cream plant on District Boulevard.

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  3. 3 of 14

    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    The individually wrapped fruit bars move to the next step of packaging.

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  4. 4 of 14

    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Cones for the Drumstick ice cream are ready for production, which includes a special treatment to keep the cones from becoming soggy when they are filled with ice cream. Production includes filling, topping and finally packaging the cones.

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  5. 5 of 14

    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Pablo Sanchez with a finished product, the Nestle Vanilla Drumstick with cookie dip topping.

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  6. 6 of 14

    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    A worker grabs two handfuls of Nestle Drumsticks( flattop) from the conveyor belt for placement in boxes.

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  7. 7 of 14

    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    A portion of the King Size Nestle Drumstick production involves, from right, filling the cones with ice cream, adding chocolate, center, and finally adding nuts.

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  8. 8 of 14

    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Skinny Cow sandwiches roll down the line at the Nestle ice cream plant on District Boulevard.

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  9. 9 of 14

    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Nestle sensory technician Isabell Gutierrez in a testing area where 10 ordinary people (who went through training) from the community gather to taste new products. Red lighting is used so the tasters judge the product solely on taste, and not on visuals.

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  10. 10 of 14

    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Chris Cabagbag, center, Xavier Miranda, left, and Sam Pineda, right, taste-test Nestle Drumsticks for proper quality in the company's sensory lab. Every ice cream lot produced is tested by a team of six tasters.

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  11. 11 of 14

    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Inside the Nestle ice cream plant on District Boulevard is a network of pipes and machinery producing various selections of ice cream.

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  12. 12 of 14

    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Nestle's classic frozen treat, the Push-Up is filled with ice cream at the company's location on District Blvd.

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  13. 13 of 14

    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Rolls of wrappers of the three Drumstick flavors: vanilla fudge, vanilla caramel and vanilla.

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  14. 14 of 14

    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    At right, Push-Up containers are on their way to be filled, while on the left, filled and sealed containers are on their way to packaging and cold storage.

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BY JOHN COX Californian staff writer jcox@bakersfield.com

All these years I've been eating ice cream drumsticks the wrong way.

Industrial engineer Steve Lara showed me the proper approach during the tour he recently gave two photographers and me inside the former Carnation plant on District Boulevard.

Related Info

BY THE NUMBERS

Dreyer's Bakersfield Operations Center

Location: 7301 District Blvd.

Size: 47 acres, 595,409 square feet

Workers: 1,200

Average production: 44 million gallons per year

Frozen storage capacity: 18,900 pallets

Different products made: 224

Source: Nestle Dreyer's Ice Cream Co.

Lara doesn't bother nibbling from the rounded top and slowly making his way down to the pointed tip. He just grabs a drumstick off the production line while it's still soft and does a little trick you can't do when it's frozen solid.

He cradled the round top in one hand; with the other he snapped off the cone. Squeezing the top he released a stream of fudge and used the cone's tip as a spoon.

So it goes inside the world's most productive ice cream factory, employer of 1,200 workers and maker of 44 million gallons a year of frozen treats.

As an outsider, getting inside Nestle Dreyer's Ice Cream Co.'s Bakersfield plant is almost impossible. That's partly because the place isn't set up for visitors. But also, the place holds valuable secrets: Dreyer's keeps a tight lid on, for example, its method of mixing low-fat, reduced-calorie ice cream and its way of spraying chocolate inside cones to keep them crisp.

That's sort of a shame, because the factory is fascinating.

Let's start with ice cream sandwiches. Round, rectangular -- same difference, right? Actually not.

To make a round sandwich, Dreyer's puts two people to work on a conveyor belt station. One person places a wafer, then a machine plops ice cream on top of it. A second worker follows by putting another wafer on top. Moments later a machine flattens the sandwich and away it goes for packaging.

That's nothing like the process for making a rectangular sandwich bar, which is the only product in the factory that works with just one operator; some stations require as many as 13 workers.

The sandwich bar person supplies wafers to a gravity-powered feeder. As the wafers arrive from opposite directions, an extruder places ice cream between them, almost gluing them together with minimal human guidance.

Fruit bars are just as technologically advanced. A machine injects puree into a row of popsicle-shaped slots built into a large, rotating table. By the short time the ceaseless table turns about 180 degrees, the bars are frozen enough to support a wooden stick inserted in their center.

Nestle says the place provides a third of the country's ice cream, including reduced-fat and lower-calorie treats. There's even ice cream with whey protein for dogs.

Full disclosure: I ate more than my share of treats that day, fresh off the line, and I didn't pay a dime. Best news assignment ever. Journalism training finally paid off.

I sampled the low-calorie mint chocolate (luscious), the strawberry fruit bar (refreshing) and two kinds of drumsticks: flat-top and round-top (enlightening, both).

As it happens, there's another way to eat round-top drumsticks. It happens during the final quality assurance measure, in the "sensory lab," where half a dozen employees sit around a table to sample the latest batch.

It was round-top drumsticks when I was there. The panel inspected the whole thing, wrapper to tip, and snapped off the cone two inches from the tip to nibble at the chocolate end. They used a spoon to scoop out ice cream at the top.

Two judges from different departments pointed out minor blemishes: a misshapen top, in one case; in the other, a dribble of chocolate on the cone. The other four samples were found to be flawless, and by consensus the batch was approved for shipment.

So tight is the factory's security that not even employees' children are allowed inside. But for one day later this year, that's going to change.

The plant turns 25 years old in August. To celebrate, owner Nestle Dreyer's is throwing a party Oct. 5. Among a list of fun activities like bounce houses, there will be the opportunity to tour the giant factory.

Sorry, but this is not a public event. Unless you're the mayor, the governor or the child of an employee, you don't get in.

Now, let's not kid ourselves: Ice cream is a small part of a healthy diet. But in moderation it can be cause for celebration.

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