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Culture Shift: Yogurt Grows Local Business, Despite Recent Recalls

New York has always taken pride in its culture, and across upstate New York-- especially in Genesee County- they are taking it to extreme.
Between two yogurt plants in Batavia, Steuben Foods packing plant in Elma, and two other major plants near Utica,  New York state is at the forefront of a national boom.

Add in the sudden rise of frozen yogurt franchises locally - with one in Williasmville, two almost adjacent to each other in the Elmwood Village, and another opening in East Aurora recently  -- and yogurt is definitely stirring things up

It's at the forefront of an even bigger culture shift: Greek yogurt, once a small fraction of the market, will top $1 billion in U.S. sales this year.

http://www.start2farm.gov/sites/default/files/styles/program-featured-image/public/dairy.jpeg?itok=E7HA9ehj"It's very high in protein, it has less sugar, and companies have made it absolutely delicious," said Cornell dairy specialist Tristan Zuber. "So that appeals to American consumers right now. They want something that's healthier."

And it's very healthy for the New York state economy, said Zuber. Upstate New York is now home to all the major Greek brands.

For local dairy farmers, you might just call it a cash cow.

Dean Norton, president of the New York Farm Bureau and a Batavia dairy farmer, himself sums it up:

"We are now the yogurt capitol of the world. New York produces more yogurt than any other state," Norton says.

  The recent boom in yogurt production is striking -- there are more than 50 plants in New York State alone.   

That means well-paying local jobs, and the Steven Hyde, of the Genesee County Industrial Development Agency says the whole food processing field has a "multiplier effect" on the local economy...

  The two yogurt plants in Genesee County expect to employ 236 workers within the first three years.
  The Greek yogurt boom in New York is being harnessed to make electricity.

More yogurt production has meant more whey, a watery byproduct from the process. Yogurt makers commonly ship it back to farms for use as feed and fertilizer. But whey also is being used to generate power in several places.

At the Gloversville-Johnstown wastewater plant west of Albany, it's pipelined from the nearby Fage yogurt plant, where it goes into a 1.5 million-gallon tank filled with anaerobic bacteria. The resulting methane gas from the "anaerobic digester" becomes combustible fuel that generates nearly enough electricity to power the plant.

A Chobani spokeswoman said most of the whey from its central New York plant is shipped back to farms for feed.

The industry is wide and resilient enough to withstand the recent recalls, Norton says.

At least 89 people have reported getting sick after eating Chobani Greek yogurt manufactured in Twin Falls, the Food and Drug Administration reported.

FDA spokeswoman Tamara Ward told The Times-News in Twin Falls on Monday that some have described nausea and cramps.

No link has been confirmed between the illnesses and the yogurt. However, Ward says the FDA is working with Chobani to hasten its voluntary recall.

Chobani last week told grocery stores to destroy 35 varieties of yogurt reported to have been contaminated by a mold associated with dairy products. Last Thursday, Chobani spokeswoman Amy Juaristi said 95 percent of the tainted product had been destroyed.

The affected yogurt cups have the code 16-012 and expiration dates between Sept. 11 and Oct. 7.

Health officials have said the yogurt is not a public health threat, but the company said last week the "mold can act as an opportunistic pathogen for those with compromised immune systems."

Juaristi told the newspaper on Monday that the company had identified the source of the issue at the Twin Falls plant and had taken steps to prevent it from happening again. The company has not said what caused the outbreak or how it would prevent a reccurrence.

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