LIMS system installed to improve quality control for dairy products

1st April 2013

Freek Rooze looks at the use of a laboratory information management system for the quality control of dairy products.

The COKZ (Centraal Orgaan voor de Kwaliteitscontrole in de Zuivel) is the central authority for quality control of dairy products in The Netherlands. The institute has more than 100 years of experience with specialised knowledge in dairy quality control and is supervised by the Dutch government. The COKZ monitors and controls the QC processes of food supplied to both Dutch and international consumers. The turnover for this segment of the Dutch dairy industry is about E6 billion yearly.

Regular inspections are made by the COKZ of dairy farmers and dairy industries in the Netherlands. Each process that the product undergoes is scrutinised upon, with hygiene a focal point; from milking the cows to production; from packaging to transportation; from storage to export.

The COKZ has the right to issue internationally recognised certificates to industries and farmers who pass the quality criteria, such as process certificates, product certificates and Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) certificates. This is a system that guarantees the safety of food. Every company that produces, treats, packages, trades, stores or transports foodstuff has to apply.

The laboratory plays a pivotal role within the COKZ, with almost half of the 145 employees working in the laboratory. Yearly they analyse 81000 samples with a total of 500000 analyses. The laboratory generates more than half of the COKZ's yearly turnover of E9 million.

The laboratory is organised into three departments: a microbiological laboratory, a lab for instrumental analytical chemistry and one for the determination of moisture, fats, proteins and food compositions.

Guaranteeing quality is more than just being certified. In the laboratory quality is ensured in five different ways:

* Working according to EN45001. This is the European Standard and leads to accreditation by STERlab. At the COKZ we use about 90 accredited methods for sampling and control.

* Participating in proficiency tests. Sample analyses are performed for chemical, physical and bacteriological analyses on behalf of governmental, industrial and commercial laboratories.

* Caring for employees. People understand the quality levels COKZ demands and are provided with the tools to achieve them. This includes attention to training, in such areas as dairy food or food analysis in general.

* Automate processes. This includes automating chemical analyses, for instance, a machine from Kiestra laboratories which is used for bacteriological analyses. It automatically fills petri dishes with a medium for bacterial growth. The laboratory information management system (StarLIMS) generates a barcode the machine automatically reads the barcode on the lid of the petri-dish, chooses the matching medium and fills the plate. The analyst then puts in the sample and gives the bacteria ­ if present ­ time to grow. In the end, the analyst merely has to count the number of bacteria and type this number into the LIMS. Samples and results are indissolubly bound by the barcode and the chance for errors are nil. This allows for faster reporting and is more customer friendly.

* Use a LIMS that easily adapts to the working environment. Constant changes at the COKZ require a LIMS that is flexible. The COKZ started with a DOS version of StarLIMS in 1994. In the lab and field this meant substituting paperwork methods to screens and barcode readers. Originally this was only performed for the milk powder product group. When we moved to the StarLIMS Windows version, the product groups expanded to cover cheese, butter, liquid dairy products and infant products. Later, when national and international regulations and quality standards were tightened up, our quality control programs were altered. StarLIMS was easily adaptable. It further added new product groups, new analyses and coupled our lab instruments directly to StarLIMS. In the past few years, there has been additional functionality performing cost calculations and invoices sent via StarLIMS. StarLIMS further administrates the organisations proficiency tests for chemical product management and acts as a database for information on hazardous compounds. Management of a LIMS is a continuous process of adaptation and optimisation, as continuous developments within the organisation requires them.“

The internal quality structures are satisfactory, but things can be improved. As with other organisations the COKZ is switching from being solely a knowledge centre and controlling institute with high quality standards, to a customer oriented organisation. Taking care of customers by sharing knowledge and supporting them with even faster analyses and reporting times is the next step in striving for quality.

Enquiry No 101

Freek Rooze is with StarLIMS operations in the Netherlands.





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