For dairy processors, delivering quality assurance
means taking advantage of new tools and technologies.
Evidence is at the heart of
many quality-assurance programs and, to that end, processors are
continually working to build their case for the quality-related attributes
of their products.
As dairy operators ratchet up QA activities to ensure
that they are producing the safest, most consistent and palatable products
possible, they continue to implement a variety of tools and services to
help them achieve their objectives. Thanks to new technologies and an
ongoing focus among processors to deliver on the promise of quality, the
methods used to bolster external confidence and provide value internal
feedback continue to improve.
The introduction of new QA tools that cover everything
from raw material handling to production to inspection come at a time when
industry competition remains intense and the bar is set high for quality
and safety. Dairy plants that work on several fronts to stay profitable
also have to address QA at many different points, with retail and
foodservice customers as well as the government, their own suppliers and in
some cases, investors and stakeholders.
According to John Urh, product manager for process
products for Matthews, N.C.-based process control instrumentation supplier
CEM Corp., the emphasis on QA partly stems from the lean environment in
which dairies operate. “The margins are so thin in this industry that
a change as small as a few tenths in butterfat concentration makes a
difference,” he says. “At the same time, they want to be
compliant with nutrition and labeling issues and there is also the profit
issue; hitting that number is driving a lot of demand for QA these
The new product development that has resulted from
competition also has ramifications on the type and extent of QA programs
and tools utilized in many dairy facilities. “A lot of products
like the new coffee drinks require a new generation of testing
protocols,” Urh says. “Things that work well for milk, cream
and cheese don’t necessarily work for some of these new
Pete Emond, vice president of business development for
Advanced Instruments Inc. a Norwood, Mass.-based provider of analytical
instruments and test kits, agrees that the broadening of dairy product
offerings impacts QA needs and activities. “One glance at your local
supermarket dairy section shows how competitive pressures are driving the
development of an ever-growing variety of consumer products by dairy
processors,” he says. “From a quality-control standpoint, these
new products must address the safety and health concerns of consumers as
well as meet increasingly stringent regulatory requirements. All of this,
in a business sector with very tight profit margins.”
For any new or existing dairy product, there are, in
fact, quite a number of QA activities that are undertaken at various
stages, some of them that reflect the latest developments in the industry.
To help manufacturers as they follow QA paradigms or
create their own systems, suppliers of QA tools and services are regularly
introducing new features and systems for their customers. At the earliest
point in the supply chain, for example, dairy farmers are utilizing
services like on-farm equipment evaluations and whole-herd milk cultures
designed to reduce mastitis levels that can hamper quality.
“While we continue to upgrade our line of testing
products for product and environmental testing in the plant, one area dairy
processors are striving to make improvements is in the quality of their
primary raw material: milk,” says Fritz Buss, technical director at
Nelson-Jameson, Inc., a Marshfield, Wis. broadline supplier to the sanitary
Buss says Nelson-Jameson has introduced a new
sensitive on-farm test for detecting sub-clinical mastitis identified by
somatic cell counts. “This is called the PortaSCC Test and is a
modified version of a clinical test used to monitor white blood-cell counts
of cancer patients,” Buss explains, noting that there are also
complementary Quad Plates from DQCI Laboratory. “The newest plate,
called the SSGNC Chromogenic Quad Plate, permits producers to plate milk on
the farm from animals showing positive PortaSCC results. Plates will reveal
whether the infection is caused by a gram negative or gram positive
Such a tool benefits the producer and the processor by
maintaining milk volume and greatly reducing risk of rejected milk due to
antibiotics, while common pathogens including E.coli,
Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus agalactiae can also
be identified using the plates.
Advanced Instruments likewise is reporting a push back
to the farm side of the farm-to-fork QA chain. “Here, Advanced
Instruments is active in robotic testing of raw milk to reduce analysis
costs and enhance the consistency of test results,” Emond says.
“This can influence the whole supply chain since, for example, tight
control of the level of somatic cells in raw milk by the farmer directly
impacts a processor’s cheese production yield.”
In the processing plant, meanwhile, QA professionals
also take advantage of new testing tools for both product and equipment.
According to Emond, QA programs and equipment for
incoming, in-process and finished goods testing at dairy processing
facilities are evolving to accommodate the technical and economic
challenges posed by the growing variety of end products. “Analytical
equipment flexibility is an important factor. The latest generation of
mid-infrared FTIR component analyzers from our Delta Instruments subsidiary
is one example,” he says, adding that the recently-launched tool
addresses a processor’s need to accurately measure components of
economic and quality control interest in multiple raw and in process blends
for product consistency, yield and cost control.
As consumer and processor trends change, Emond adds, so
must the capabilities of QA equipment. As one example, Emond points out
that Delta Instruments has an ongoing program focused on developing
additional measurement parameters, such as free fatty acids, that can be
run on the same instrument platform without major incremental investment to
To be sure, rapid testing has been a focus of many QA
program improvements. Bentley Instruments, a provider of analytical
instruments for milk and milk products based in Chaska, Minn., recently
introduced a new series of bacteria counters that have dramatically closed
the results window. “For getting rapid bacteria on a milk sample,
instead of having to wait 48 to 72 hours, it’s 10 minutes. You can
also test several samples, and that way you can get down to a sample a
minute or so,” reports company president and owner Bent Lyder.
According to Lyder, improvements in flow cytometry
technology contributed to the development of the new counters. “It is
actually counting the individual bacteria,” he says. “We are
counting live bacteria and dead bacteria for a total
Even though the bacteria are dead, it is still an
indication that the milk is mistreated along the line, Lyder explains. Also
dovetailed into QA programs is Bentley Instruments’ new line of
infrared equipment, based on fourirer transform infrared technology. The
new line is the latest addition to Bentley’s mid-infrared instruments
built in single-beam optical systems.
The trend toward providing test results in less time is
also being addressed by CEM Corp. Among other instruments and services, CEM
offers the SMART Trac fat and moisture analyzer that provides a direct
measurement of total fat, including both free and chemically-bound fat in
solids, liquids and slurries. “We’re able to see through
all of the additives and in different formulations and measure the fact
directly regardless of what else is present,” Urh says. “With
this technology, people can also change formulations without having to
change the calibration of the instrument and still be able to
provide good quality assurance.”
Flexibility was also a consideration in the
development of other recent technologies at CEM. “We now have full
method transferability among our products. If you have a cultured product,
for instance, that has a specialized method in the instrument to get a good
result, it is possible to export that method to another instrument that is
essentially a clone,” Urh says, noting that there is no need to
acquire a half dozen samples to calibrate the equipment. “If you have
method transfer capability, you only have to create a method
Beyond analytical instruments, there are other tools
literally used on the front line of production, such as cleaning tools.
“We’re doing whatever we can to make their sanitation
process easier and more standardized. As I’ve seen HACCP starting to
take hold, for example, we’re seeing more in terms of color coding to
keep brushes from cross contamination,” says Lance Cheney, president
of Braun Brush Co., Albertson, N.Y.
The increasing use of stainless-steel equipment also
has QA implications, Cheney adds. “Brushes that are not going to
damage equipment have been more important. We have a couple of ways that we
are addressing that, like an epoxy-set product they can use in a tank
or vat without fear of bristle lost,” he explains, noting that
Braun recently developed new metal-free, ultrasonically welded brushes.
Reflecting other components used in QA programs,
brushes from Braun are increasingly made on a custom basis. Users can
simply go online and design a brush specific to their needs, Cheney says.
“If they have a pipe that’s 9 feet long and 1 3/8 [inches] in
diameter and need something specific to that pipe instead of an
off-the-shelf pipe, we can do that,” he says.
Technologies that help operators enhance their QA
programs extend beyond the back door of a dairy facility as well.
Cold-chain management systems include a variety of tools used in the
storage and distribution of refrigerated and frozen products. For example,
Pak-Sense Inc., a Boise, Idaho-based supplier of intelligent testing
products, offers a flat 2-by-2-inch label that can monitor the time and
temperature of perishable product throughout distribution, with lights
flashing if specifications have been breached. Data collected by the label
can be downloaded and used on a spreadsheet.
Lynn Petrak is a freelance journalist based in the
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