Issue 51

New research explores a free-flowing future for food powders

Arla Foods Ingredients takes the lead to prevent powder caking in lactose.

Caking is a recurring issue for manufacturers of powder ingredients, capable of turning a bag of free-flowing powder into a lump as hard as stone. With caked powder come longer processing times, reduced product quality and economic loss – and many returns from dissatisfied customers.

At Arla Foods Ingredients, a PhD project is underway to understand how caking occurs in food powders and to develop a method for predicting caking in lactose powder. The French national institute for agricultural research, INRA, and University of Copenhagen are partners in the project.

Predictive quality control
“Powder caking is an issue for many industries, so we expect some of our findings to be of broad interest,” says PhD student Mélanie Carpin.
“Within food powders, the problem is that most existing methods for characterising caking do not match the needs of the food industry. There is a need for reliable methods to predict caking which can be used in quality control.”
By developing a predictive method specifically for lactose, Arla Foods Ingredients will be able to identify batches with caking tendencies before they are sent to customers.

Understanding lactose
As a main ingredient in infant formula, lactose quality is critical. Although the crystalline, high purity lactose produced by Arla Foods Ingredients represents the most stable lactose form, factors such as temperature, humidity and mechanical pressure can give rise to occasional caking problems.
“At our lactose plant, research is not restricted to the lab. We can also take samples during production and in the warehouse. A thorough understanding of production and storage is essential to predict caking and, ultimately, find ways to prevent it,” Carpin says.

First paper published
The PhD project has already established the foundations for that understanding. A critical review, published in ‘Trends in Food Science & Technology’ earlier this year, describes the three main caking mechanisms in food powders in general and crystalline lactose powder in particular.

Find the review article ‘Caking of lactose: A critical review’ here.

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