New technique can reveal interference with milk in China

Posted: 26 November 2012 | Arla Foods | No comments yet

Together with Danish Foss and Fonterra, Arla has developed a screening method that can reveal whether milk has been tampered with…

Glass of Milk

Together with Danish Foss and New Zealand-based dairy company Fonterra, Arla has developed a screening method that can reveal whether milk has been tampered with in order to achieve financial gains. This method will be used in such countries as China, where confidence in locally produced foods is low.

Glass of MilkThe screening method will now be tested in practice at the Mengnius dairies, and will be one of the first tasks of the new ‘China-Denmark Milk Technology Cooperation Centre’ inaugurated by Arla today (26 November) in Beijing. The aim of the new centre is to promote food safety in the Chinese dairy industry.

“If this method had been available to Chinese dairies in 2008, they might have discovered that the milk had been tampered with, and avoided the earlier problems with food safety. As the new screening method is reliable, fast and cheap, it is interesting for all dairies in China. Once we have tested it, the rest of the dairy industry can also implement it, so that consumer confidence can be restored – for the benefit of the entire industry,” says Frede Juulsen, SVP at Arla with responsibility for China.

Unique method for testing milk

The new method is unique, since all raw milk can be screened for deviations on a very streamlined basis. Any deviation may indicate one of many known substances that can be added to milk in order to tamper with the protein content. Currently unknown substances or the addition of water will also show up in the analysis.

“If there is anything abnormal about the milk, it can be tested further in 18 existing analyses, that can each reveal a specific substance. These analyses require more resources, however. So the advantage of the new method is that the milk does not have to be analysed unless the initial screening indicates a deviation,” says Niels Juul Mortensen, technology manager of Arla’s activities in China.

Today, all raw milk weighed in at the Mengnius dairies is analysed for melamine. Once the new screening method has been initiated, only milk that deviates from normal milk will be tested for melamine and other substances. At first, the screening will take place at the dairy before the processing starts, but the aim in the longer term is that the milk is analysed in the the tanker at the farm or at the intermediary’s premises.

Facts about the method: Taking the milk’s “fingerprint”

The new method has been developed by the Danish company Foss, in cooperation with Arla and New Zealand’s Fonterra. Arla has cooperated with Foss, a developer of analysis methods and equipment, for many years.

The method is based on how raw milk has its own special “fingerprint”. This fingerprint can be registered via infra-red light that is passed through the milk sample. The sample’s fingerprint is then compared with the fingerprint of normal milk. Any deviation indicates an abnormal composition of the milk. The software for the technique can be installed in existing analysis equipment.

“At Foss we are proud to be able to make a significant contribution to improving food safety in China. We have already delivered more than 500 advanced analysis instruments to the Chinese dairies, and once the new method has been thoroughly tested by Mengniu, it will be possible to upgrade the instruments quickly. This will establish a closely meshed screening system that will hopefully boost Chinese consumers’ confidence in local dairy products,” says Torben Ladegaard, CEO of Foss.

Fingerprints can vary

The fingerprint can vary, depending on the cattle breed, feed and season. Based on 10,000 milk samples taken in Denmark, New Zealand and Inner Mongolia in China, an average fingerprint has been defined. The knowledge centre in Beijing will now begin investigating whether raw milk from other parts of China than Inner Mongolia has significantly different fingerprints.

“Initial studies are expected to show that Chinese milk lies within the average fingerprint that we have defined, based on the 10,000 samples. But we need to be quite sure before we test the method at the Mengnius dairies,” says Niels Juul Mortensen.

Once the test phase is completed the method will be offered to the rest of the dairy industry.

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