Cheese industry threatened by COVID dry ice demand

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Dry ice will play a critical role in ending the pandemic.

The vaccine will need to be stored at cold temperatures that dry ice can provide. That’s why companies like A+ Helers Dry Ice and CO2 are getting ready for a surge in demand.

“We’re ready to ramp up, and we have the capacity available, that’s not an issue, it’s just how and when,” said Neal Gruber, CEO.

But one major industry is worried that demand might just be too much -- the cheese industry.

“The dairy industry is actually a fairly big consumer of dry ice,” said Rebekah Sweeney from the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association.  “There is nothing that can replicate that in our supply chain.”

Dry ice is essential in making dairy cultures, used to make cheese.  A shortage would be devastating.

“There is no plan b, we have to have dry ice in order to make and distribute dairy cultures, there’s just no substitute for it,” said Sweeney.

That’s why the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association sent a letter to state and federal officials asking that 350,000 pounds of dry ice a week be set aside.

“Cows don’t stop producing milk, so if we can’t make it into cheese, it would be disposed, so the effects would be devastating,” said Sweeney.

And if the dry ice supply dries up, it wouldn’t just affect Wisconsin cheese makers. Three Wisconsin companies are responsible for almost all the world’s dairy cultures.

“It’s a global market chain that really begins here in Wisconsin with the manufacture of dairy cultures,” said Sweeney.

It’s one reason dry ice makers are getting ready for higher demand right now.

“To be as ready as we can and to apply our knowledge and our skillset and our experience,” said Gruber.

On Wednesday, Dec. 9, Governor Evers awarded more than $3 million dollars in CARES Act funding to help the ethanol industry, which is critical in making dry ice.

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