Issue 46

New food safety capability speeds up customer deliveries

Microbial identification system approves products for dispatch up to five times faster

It’s a fact that ensuring impeccable food safety standards can be a time-consuming business. One hurdle is the often lengthy wait before the results of a microbiological analysis come back from an external lab. As no products may be released from the warehouse until the results are approved, that can cause delays in customer deliveries.

At Arla Foods Ingredients in Denmark, a new investment in advanced microbiological analysis equipment is speeding up the food safety approval process. Now, instead of taking up to 10 days, the microbiological quality of individual product batches can be tested and confirmed in less than 48 hours.

Species identification
The technology is known as MALDI-TOF, a microbial identification system that defines the exact type of bacteria present in a product sample – giving the necessary assurance that none of the undesirable microorganisms naturally present in whey are still present.

“The high level of precision means we can easily determine if the species of microorganism are both expected and at an acceptable level in our products,” says Thomas Hannibal, laboratory manager at Arla Foods Ingredients.

“For our customers, this in-house capability equips us to complete our quality assurance process faster and reduce our delivery time. It also means that, if there are signs of a problem, we can react before it develops.

”Expertise required
Although automated, the system calls on the expertise of Arla Foods Ingredients’ microbiology specialists to prepare the samples for analysis and evaluate the results. All evaluations are double-checked by two members of the team. “Some bacteria have a similar genetic make-up, so the machine will make some suggestions. We use our knowledge to identify the right species,” says Hanne Rasmussen, team leader microbiology.

Microbiological fingerprints
Over time, the analysis results will build a database of identified microorganisms that can be linked to each of Arla Foods Ingredients’ whey suppliers.

“This will give us a microbiological ‘fingerprint’ of our suppliers, making it easier to track the origin of specific bacteria. So, if we find something unusual, we can locate the source and ensure necessary improvements are made,” Thomas Hannibal explains.

The only occasion when Arla Foods Ingredients is still required to send a sample to an external lab is if the system identifies a potential pathogen – an extra safety measure taken if there is the slightest doubt.

“Basically, customers can expect what we have always supplied – products of high quality and safety. The difference is that we can deliver finished products faster,” says Hannibal.

Arla Foods Ingredients analyses the microbiological profile of around 1.5 million samples a year.

For more information, contact ingredients@arla.com.