By Pedro Gonçalves

Food safety is nonnegotiable in the dairy processing industry. Dairy processors must pay close attention to all the major components that ensure safety: the quality of the raw ingredients, the technology powering the preservation process, the controls driving the entire processing system from start to finish and traceability. 

As dairy companies are finding, more complicated processing is required to create new products satisfying consumers’ ever-changing wants and needs. Today’s consumers are clamoring for new dairy products that contain higher protein, are organic, have reduced sugar, increased fiber and more vibrant taste, and so on – all with minimal environmental impact. And, as trends go, tomorrow’s consumers may want something else entirely. 

The continuous cycle of research, development and product launches presents an array of new obstacles in ensuring food safety. But the greatest challenges often present the best opportunities. Optimizing this cycle allows brands to not only introduce new products, but also implement innovative new processes and technologies to safely produce and deliver those products to market. 

For example, an end-to-end system that tracks processing from raw materials through to packaging becomes an immensely important tool to ensure safety and consistency. Choosing the right systems and technology will help producers find the appropriate formulation controls and provide data for traceability. Likewise, the right packaging format can benefit producers looking to efficiently and safely package a wide range of new, innovative products.  

A process control system addresses dairy processing challenges

New, advanced products and formulations require a focus on quality and consistency in every batch. From the order ingredients are added to the temperatures required for each, every step of the process is critical. Implementing a modern process control system can address the specific challenges dairy brands face, whether they are producing beverages, ice cream, yogurt or cheese. 

Once the correct formulation and steps are identified, process control systems can take over to ensure consistency. This prevents possible missteps due to human error or the need to make corrections at the end of production. With increasingly sophisticated formulations becoming the norm, more robust technology plays an even bigger role in managing production and delivering the same flavor and quality time after time.

Best-in-class traceability for a complete product history

Beyond their desire for more customized and advanced products, today’s retailers and consumers are increasingly aware of what traceability means. Transparency is more important than ever. It satisfies consumers’ curiosity about where their products come from and who made them.  Best-in-class traceability allows producers to quickly and easily access the complete history of a product. The good news is the same process control system that aids in formulation control can also be used to establish that end-to-end traceability. 

Although no producer wants to be faced with a recall, all of us know how important it is to be prepared when things do go wrong. A strong traceability system and recall procedure is paramount in ensuring these situations are managed swiftly and effectively. The ability to review the entire history of a product is an incredible advantage: what raw materials went into it, how it was made, where it was stored, when it was transported and more. Having this detail readily available can turn a broad recall into a targeted effort.

When aseptic packaging is the best choice for dairy foods, beverages

Along with looking for more diverse, specialized foods and beverages, retailers and consumers are also paying attention to packaging options and how they impact what’s inside. For example, protection from light and oxygen varies significantly among package types. This can dramatically affect quality, shorten shelf-life or degrade taste. Package choice can also dictate the need for preservatives or other additives. All of these factors impact business and market positioning, making it especially important to choose packaging carefully.

While preservatives are sometimes needed to help protect food safety and extend shelf life, consumers are increasingly choosing products without them. One way to deliver safe, preservative-free dairy products is by choosing aseptic packaging, which can eliminate the need for such additives while delivering a long shelf life, even outside the refrigerator. Since these products can be stored and transported at ambient temperatures, aseptic packaging can also carry energy and transportation cost savings. From a production perspective, aseptic processing uses less energy because it involves flash-heating at high temperatures – without a loss of nutrients, flavor or product safety.

As the dairy industry creates new products for consumers with different lifestyles and nutrition needs, robust processing and packaging systems are a smart way to ensure the consistency, quality and food safety of these complex formulations. By optimizing back-end systems invisible to the consumer, dairy brands and dairy processors can better position themselves to win a greater share of their wallets and loyalty – a good thing for the industry as a whole. 

Pedro Gonçalves is the marketing, category and portfolio director of the processing systems division of Tetra Pak Americas.