Issue 43

Microbiology standard is the highest ever

Arla Foods Ingredients aims to bring more dry-blend products to the infant nutrition market. In-house standards for bacteria control are at their most stringent ever at Arla Foods Ingredients’ largest European plant, where production of dry-blend lactose will commence later this year.

The extreme hygiene level is aligned with the Codex Alimentarius standard, which secures maximum protection of infants against exposure to harmful bacteria in infant formulas, including formulas for special medical purposes. “Our microbiology standards have always been high. Now what we have done is apply the same bacteria count standard to a much bigger area in our environmental surface monitoring.  So, what used to apply to 1cm2 – a previous general food safety standard – now applies to 625cm2. “In other words, we have raised our microbiology standard 625 times – and we will go even further than that,” says Jens Erik Maul, quality assurance and control manager.

A quantum leap
In the new lactose plant, quality assurance has been built into the process design – recognising the fact that the strictest food safety procedures alone are no longer sufficient to meet today’s quality demands.  This is the reason why infant formula manufacturers will be able to add Arla Foods Ingredients’ dry-blend lactose directly to their products after the spray drying process. “Our dry-blend lactose represents a quantum leap for us in microbiology standards, which will make us a benchmark supplier. At the same time, we are working to implement the same standards on our existing whey processing lines, which currently meet specifications for wet blending in infant formula products,” Maul says.

Hygiene zones
The journey towards implementation on existing lines began last year with the introduction of hygiene zones, separated by sluices where clothes and footwear are changed and hands disinfected. In the red zone where whey products arrive after the final heat treatment, employees wear a special suit to prevent post-contamination. Humidity and temperature are strictly controlled, and measures are in place to prevent external air and soil bacteria from entering.

Food safety culture
Comprehensive staff training, rigorous cleaning procedures and spot analyses of whey ingredients during processing have sharpened the food safety culture inside the plant. An additional high focus is placed on the suppliers who deliver the whey.“Once the whey arrives at our plant, it takes several days before we can detect microbiological growth. So we require our suppliers to implement the same control procedures as us. We have a team of advisors to support them in this,” Maul explains.The facility that will produce the new dry-blend lactose is a multi-million Euro investment. During 2014 alone, many more million Euro will be invested in optimising other key processing lines to ensure they, too, meet the high demands for dry-blending in infant formula.