In one of the world's coldest workplaces, in New Berlin, it's nearly 70 below
The super freezer at Chr Hansen is kept at nearly 70 degrees below zero to store bacteria cultures used to make cheeses, yogurts and other food products. Mike De Sisti, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
In one of the coldest workplaces on earth, in New Berlin, employees wear heated boots with a 2-inch-thick sole.
Inside their work area — two freezers totaling 12,000 square feet — it’s nearly 70 below zero, colder than most winter days in Siberia.
Dressed in multiple layers, hoodies, masks, hats and gloves, they can stay in the freezers for only about two hours before taking a 20-minute break to warm up.
It’s that cold inside the “super freezers” at Chr Hansen, a food ingredient company based in Copenhagen, Denmark, with its North American headquarters in West Allis.
The freezers store bacteria cultures used to make cheeses, yogurts and other dairy products, as well as wine and meat products.
The floor is heated to prevent permafrost, in the soil, that could damage the building.
Workers wear suits that would protect them down to nearly 80 below. The suits are double-lined clothing with a reflective surface inside to trap body heat.
The suits also have a “tilt alarm” that sounds if a worker falls inside a freezer, initiating a quick rescue response.
“It’s almost like working at the North Pole,” said Mike Graham, project engineer at Chr Hansen, which is the process of adding 19,000 more square feet of super freezer space.
When finished, it will be one of the largest such freezers in the world, according to the company.
Chr Hansen has one of the world’s largest commercial collections of bacteria, nearly 30,000 strains.
Half of the world’s cheeses and yogurts contain a Chr Hansen ingredient, according to the company, which has production facilities on five continents.
Cultures are stored at minus-67 degrees until they’re shipped, frozen, to food companies that thaw them and put them to work making products.
The company also makes probiotic bacteria strains for health care companies around the world.
“We develop and produce cultures, enzymes, probiotics and natural colors for a rich variety of foods, confectionery, beverages, dietary supplements and even animal feed and plant protection,” the company says.
More than 1 billion people a day consume products containing the company’s natural ingredients, the Chr Hansen website says.
The company has more than 3,000 employees, in about 30 countries, including about 300 in New Berlin and the Milwaukee area.
It was founded by a Danish pharmacist in 1874 and has been in the Milwaukee area since the late 1920s.
“We’ve been pretty fortunate in the people we’ve been able to recruit and retain,” Graham said.