Cream of The Crop - How innovative approaches to dairy testing and analysis are helping the industry get ahead of quality and compliance demands

By Wopke Beukema and Sharad Tripathi, PerkinElmer, Inc.

- Last updated on GMT

PerkinElmer's lactoscope. Pic: PerkinElmer
PerkinElmer's lactoscope. Pic: PerkinElmer

Related tags: Dairy, Testing, PerkinElmer

It’s no secret the dairy industry has greatly evolved over the last few decades. And, from the farming stage through to processing and packaging, advancements in technology have allowed the sector to boost yields, enhance quality and lower costs.

However, increasing economic pressures, demographic shifts and consumer expectations are fueling a desire for increasingly innovative approaches to take dairy products to the next level. For example, in the North American market, health-conscious consumers are interested in premium products that they feel will boost their overall mood or enhance physical health. At the same time, around the world, the industry faces more stringent food safety regulations and protocols.

These intensified pressures on the dairy industry are inspiring the development of a new generation of analytical tools and approaches to ensure safety and maximize efficiency. New innovations, such as intuitive infrared technologies and rapid ELISA kits, are helping processors better meet the demands of today’s dairy industry.

Upstream testing for upmarket solutions

For the dairy industry, ensuring consumer safety is priority number one. In recent years, this need has become more important due to several trends.

Firstly, consumers are scrutinizing their packaging more than ever, demanding greater transparency about the ingredients they’re ingesting. As such, for brands looking to develop new products, they need to ensure the ever-growing list of contaminants and adulterants are strictly monitored.

Secondly, dairy processors are facing a landscape of heavier restrictions.

Traditionally, the focus for safety testing along the dairy supply chain has been concentrated in the midstream. Often centering on quality parameters and contaminants in dairy products, such as pesticides, mycotoxins, antibiotics and heavy metals. However, recently, processors are increasingly looking to incorporate testing procedures upstream to provide them with more control over ingredient quality and safety. This helps reduce the risk of contaminated tankers potentially becoming integrated with larger supplies, which would result in huge losses of costly raw material.

This change in the analytical approach can best be seen in antibiotic residue testing. In the dairy industry, antibiotics are widely applied to treat diseases and increase milk production at the farm level. As such, to help protect consumers from unsafe residues, dairy must be tested at various stages of the supply chain, such as collection points at farms and at the processing plant, to ensure all drug residues are below regulated requirements. For the dairy industry, this is also a matter of public opinion. With alternative dairy products growing, the industry must work to inspire confidence in products and showcase the integrity of supply chains.

Lateral flow strip tests are portable and intuitive innovations providing the industry with the tools to rapidly detect antibiotic residues at or below EU and CODEX maximum limits, both in the field and the lab. When paired with a digital reader to interpret the results, these technologies can eliminate any ambiguity and provide users with a clear positive or negative result within minutes. They can store images of the strip, enabling traceability of results.

As the supply chain looks to increase testing upstream, portable, easy-to-use and reliable tools such as lateral flow strip tests will be vital.

Footprints and feed analysis

Another way analytical technologies are deployed in upstream testing is raw milk analysis. Here, Fourier-transform infrared technology (FTIR) instrumentation assists milk processors and dairies with ensuring the consistency of raw materials. By assuring the compositional makeup of raw milk, processors can be confident in both quality and making fair payment to suppliers.

As well as scrutinizing their packaging, consumers are also becoming more environmentally conscientious toward what they consume.

For those looking to reduce the carbon footprint of their dairy products, raw milk analysis also offers an intuitive way to improve sustainability. By analyzing raw milk with intuitive testing tools, such as FTIR analyzers, at the collection point, farmers and dairy collectors can optimize feed and milk production in order to improve green credentials.

Urea content, for example, can serve as a useful indicator for farmers and help reduce the environmental impact of their herd. A higher urea content indicates overfeeding of cows, which produces more nitrogen waste, and a lower urea content indicates underfeeding and a lack of optimization of each cow’s potential. By knowing this and optimizing feed accordingly to lower nitrogen waste, the environmental impacts of nitrogen waste including both ammonia emissions, which cause haze and lung issues, and water contamination, which can lead to health problems in infants, can be reduced.

The latest full-spectrum FTIR instrumentation incorporates the latest mid-infrared technology. With these innovations, dairy processors can gain access to the quick measuring times and the accuracy levels required to optimize feed in response to urea levels. Combined with minimum downtime and global calibrations for raw milk, whey and cream, technologies like this allow processors to meet today’s compositional analysis needs.

Improvements in sustainability aren’t limited to the dairy production line, either. Analytical equipment suppliers are also proactively lowering the environmental impact of their offerings. By replacing plastic bottles with plant-based plastic materials, reducing the size of equipment to decrease raw material usage and replacing metal parts with reusable materials, equipment producers are aiming to reduce their own carbon footprints too.

Data farming and innovating inwards

As with almost all industries, data is increasingly being leveraged to streamline workflows across the dairy value chain. While not all dairy processors have taken full advantage of “big data,” it is a rapidly growing sector representing a fantastic opportunity for processors to enhance their production routines.

By utilizing data solutions, workflows can be synchronized for all parts of the processor, granting the user access to unrivaled efficiency. Even aspects like maintenance can be optimized with data solutions, allowing users to know exactly when something needs to be cleaned in a way that doesn’t sacrifice productivity.

With more software and instrument solutions that use big data being offered by analytical companies, processors are being given further opportunities to run increasingly cost-effective workflows.

While some innovations within the dairy industry have been driven in response to customer needs, others have come in response to the needs of the industry.

In particular, the food industry faces high levels of employee turnover. Combined with the requirement for specific and lengthy training, this results in a lack of expertise, workflow breakdown and an overall decrease in productivity.

Responding to this, analytical providers are creating more easy-to-use instruments and software solutions.

For example, by using the same type of software across several platforms and by making a concerted effort to develop more intuitive software that can be learned real-time as it’s used, instead of by reading through manuals, learning time for new users can be greatly reduced.

Additionally, by developing more web-based and cloud-based solutions, analytical equipment manufacturers are facilitating increased collaboration and efficiency among dairy processors.

Anticipating the next trends

The global dairy industry is constantly changing, and not always in the same direction. Predominant regional trends can be radically different. In Europe for example, there is a consolidation of the dairy industry, but in India, tighter restrictions to ensure adulterant-free milk production are being enacted.

As the wider dairy industry and consumer habits continue to rapidly shift, processors must be able to rely on insightful analysis and key, accurate data to get ahead. To ensure this, analytical equipment companies are working closely alongside the dairy industry to meet the demands of the current landscape, as well as drive forward the future of dairy processing.

 

Wopke Beukema is the senior manager R&D at PerkinElmer, Inc., and Sharad Tripathi the global market manager for dairy at PerkinElmer, Inc.

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