Using LIMS for Quality Control within a Dairy Manufacturing Environment

Using LIMS for Quality Control within a Dairy Manufacturing Environment

Published On: January 25th, 2018Categories: News, News & Events

LIMS enable accurate records ensuring minimal waste and enabling instant recall of test results of any process stage that enables accurate tracing across the production chain

Laboratory Information Management Systems (LIMS) enable accurate records ensuring minimal waste and enabling instant recall of test results of any process stage that enables accurate tracing across the production chain from the final dairy products back to the location of the originating animals.

The Quality Control Process

Quality Control (QC) laboratories in dairy manufacturing must sample at every stage of the process as illustrated in the diagram above:

Ad-hoc sampling at local farms is used, especially with new farms to ensure milk quality and animal health, or farms suspected of providing contaminated product, to ensure the farm is providing good quality milk. Butterfat, protein tests and so forth may also be done at the farm level to assess milk quality if this affects acceptability of the milk or the payments to the farmer.

Bulk tankers typically collect milk from each farm and offload into storage tanks in the dairy. Samples are typically taken from incoming tankers to ensure milk quality. The milk is typically isolated until QC testing is complete and then it is released for production.

In a typical dairy milk passes through skimming to ensure the correct fat content (for whole, semi-skimmed, double cream etc), pasteurization to kill bacteria, and cooling to increase shelf-life of the product. Sample testing of the final products are used to ensure product is fit to sell. Large customers like supermarkets, may demand to see a “Certificate of Conformance” on a batch by batch basis, so this is typically sent by email and kept on file.

Specialist processes for yogurt, cheese, clotted cream and so on may also take place depending on the end products being produced. In this case extra QC testing will take place as needed. For instance in Clotted Cream production, monitoring of the oven temperature and bacterial counts of the final product may be performed as well the sterility of the ovens and so forth checked.

In order to ensure dairy products have the expected shelf-life product is typically held back, stored and then re-tested. Product may be kept at an elevated temperature, for instance, to gauge deterioration in non-ideal conditions. Stability testing such as this is common in the food and beverage industry and is a key part of QC testing.

Swab checks across the production environment are very common to ensure process is performed correctly: Are the tankers properly cleaned? Are the storage tanks and production machines sterilised between batches? Are Yoghurt pots sterile before use? Are contaminants within the clean water within acceptable limits? Are waste water contaminants below legal limits? And so on. Checking the production systems is an important part of the overall quality control of the production cycle.

How Does LIMS Help ?

Matrix Gemini LIMS can be used throughout the production process to automate the logging samples, expedite the QC tasks, collate and merge all the data and extract management information quickly. Importantly with Matrix Gemini LIMS the flow, icons, labels and so forth can be easily modified using graphically based configuration tools – no programming or coding skills are required.

Samples, which are taken throughout production, may be tagged to refer them back to the original tanker/farm from which they came. In a typical production environment raw milk is kept in isolation tanks until it has passed initial checks. Once passed the milk is then released for production. The Matrix Gemini LIMS can automate the pass/fail message to production equipment, reducing time that milk needs to be held in quarantine and speeding up production. If laboratory equipment allows it test results may be automatically uploaded reducing human error and further increasing the throughput speed of the lab.

Key QC tests on milk products typically include:

  • Resazurin – tests bacteriological quality of milk
  • TBC – Total Bacterial Count – quantitative measure of bacteria in the milk
  • FPD – Freezing Point Depression – tests for extraneous water content in the milk
  • Butterfat – tests for % of butterfat in the milk
  • ALP – Alkaline Phosphatase – measures the level of residual ALP enzyme in milk after pasteurisation
  • Temperature – records temperature, a measure of shelf life
  • Smell – quick test for milk spoilage
  • Plus other tests depending on milk products being produced

These tests, along with test limits and so forth are captured within the LIMS solution to ensure that testing in always done correctly. The LIMS records all results enabling them to be recalled when needed. Any changes to the tests or results are also automatically recorded to ensure proper procedure is always followed.

LIMS solutions allow management reports to be quickly compiled showing, for instance, the average bacterial counts of the product over time for different batches, or variations over time. This ensures that quality can be monitored and, if necessary, actions taken to improve quality.

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