In milk, we have a unique raw material

By Richard Johnson, Lead Chemist, Fonterra Laboratories
Wednesday, 06 July, 2005

Formed in October 2001, the Fonterra Cooperative Group is a leading multi-national dairy company, owned by 13,000 New Zealand dairy farmers. With an annual turnover of US$6.8 billion, they are the world's largest exporter of dairy products, exporting 95% of their production to customers and consumers in 140 countries. Over 13 billion litres of milk are collected per year, which makes over 2 million tonnes of dairy products annually.

Food, cosmetics and drugs manufacturers have always been facing many quality assurance and analysis challenges to ensure their products' needs, safety specifications and regulatory standards. With increased consumer concerns about what is in their foods and cosmetics and the safety of the food they eat and products they use, manufacturers have even more reasons to be vigilant about the composition of their products.

As an international organisation operating in the food business, Fonterra is affected by an intricate network of national and international laws, regulations, agreements and treaties - particularly in the areas of trade access, food and environmental safety, and quality.

Fonterra seeks to lead the race to explore the health and nutritional potential of raw milk and to strive through innovation to develop products to meet the needs of an increasingly health conscious world, from quality ingredients for the food industry to fast-moving consumer goods. Thus, the company is New Zealand's largest private sector investor in research and development with an annual spend of approximately NZ$100 million. Research is carried out in six streams - Food and Environmental Assurance, Food Systems, Bioactives & Health, Process Technology, On-Farm Productivity and Intellectual Property - and programs are contracted on merit.

With more than 1000 ingredient products provided to the international food industry, the company is also the world's largest dairy ingredients operation. The ingredients business markets products under the NZMP brand in over 100 countries, operating a network of offices covering every continent except Antarctica. It is responsible for the entire cow-to-customer value chain from milk collection, through manufacturing and logistics and ultimately to the marketing of quality ingredients to the international food industry.

Milk, being virtually the only substance created by nature solely for nutrition, is truly a miracle food. Fonterra food scientists continue to widen the company's range of nutritional, health promoting and flavourful products.

Formerly, Fonterra had zinc and iron tested by ICP at contract laboratories with the consequent delay in obtaining feedback to the manufacturing plant. Now, Fonterra New Zealand has purchased two PANalytical MiniPal systems for milk powder analysis.

XRF spectrometry has for many years been accepted internationally as a rapid and accurate technique for the analysis of organic substances. The determination of element concentrations of between 0.1 ppm and 100% in biological samples is carried out with a minimum of pre-treatment.

Richard Johnson, Lead Chemist at the Fonterra Laboratories, explains: "The elements we are interested in at present are calcium, iron and zinc. That is what we use the two PANalytical MiniPal systems for. Calcium, zinc and iron are fortified in some of our products and rapid XRF results will ensure that the product is manufactured to specification." Trace element concentrations like iron have to be determined in the final products in order to ensure the correct addition of mineral premixes during production. At the same time these iron tracers can also be used to control process parameters ensuring premix concentrations are achieved according to targets.

The major advantage of the x-ray fluorescence technique is that measurements can be directly carried out on solid samples avoiding sample digestion-dissolution with toxic or corrosive acids. Less preparation and manipulation means time and cost savings.

The ease of sample preparation, reproducibility, cost of ownership and ease of operation are key factors when it comes to making the decision for an analytical technique. XRF additionally can also be a valuable analytical tool in the food industry for the determination of chloride, because it cannot be determined using classical atomic absorption or inductively coupled plasma.

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