Striving for Quality Control at COKZ with a
Striving for Quality Control at COKZ with a Paperless Laboratory
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 over a hundred years of experience and specialized knowledge in dairy quality control. The Dutch government directly supervises the Authority. COKZ monitors and controls the processes that provide impeccable food in the Netherlands and to international consumers. The turnover for this segment of the Dutch dairy industry is about 6 Billion Euros yearly.
From time to time inspectors of the COKZ visit the dairy farmers and dairy industries in the Netherlands. Each process that the product undergoes is scrutinized upon under a magnifying glass, with hygiene a focal point; from milking the cows to production; from packaging to transportation; from storage to export. Each process is measured against a ‘hygienic code' that has been developed by professionals within the dairy sector. The COKZ also has the right to issue internationally recognized certificates such as process certificates, product certificates and HACCP certificates. Only those who pass the quality criteria are entitled to receive a certificate. Industries or farmers that fall short are warned or fined. In more serious cases, products can be rejected for human consumption.
The laboratory plays a pivotal role within the COKZ, with almost half of the 145 employees working in the laboratory. This group holds 55 Full Time jobs. Yearly they analyze 81,000 samples with a total of 500,000 analyses. The turnover of the COKZ is about 9 million Euros yearly. This partly comes from charges imposed on the companies, with the majority of charges relating to production. The laboratory generates more than half of the turnover.
The laboratory is organized into three departments: a microbiological laboratory, a lab for instrumental analytical chemistry and one for the determination of moisture, fats, proteins and food compositions. We spoke with Mr. Hein Valenberg, until recently general manager of the laboratory. Mr. Valenberg realizes that the laboratory serves as an example to others and that many are dependant on the results it generates
Mr Valenberg explains that guaranteeing quality is more than just being certified by the council for accreditation.
Van Valenberg; ”In our laboratory we ensure quality in five different ways:
Working according to EN 45001. This is the European Standard and leads to accreditation by STERLAB. At the COKZ we use about 90 accredited methods for sampling and control.
Organizing and participating in proficiency tests for sample analysis. COKZ provides proficiency tests for chemical, physical and bacteriological analyses. Governmental, industrial and commercial laboratories are all included. Our results have always been very good to excellent.
Caring for the people who work for us. Our people are conscious about the quality levels we demand and are provided with the tools to achieve them. This requires knowledge and we pay attention to training, for example in the areas of dairy food or food analysis in general. The motivation to take part in these training courses is high, with a 100% attendance rate in the last course we organized. If there is no external training course available, we conduct it ourselves.
Automate as many processes as possible. This includes analyzing chemicals, and other processes that are harder to automate. For instance: for bacteriological analyses we use a machine from Kiestra laboratories that automatically fills petri-dishes with a medium for bacterial growth. The composition of the medium is dependant on the type of bacteria you want to measure. Our Laboratory Information Management System (STARLIMS) generates a barcode with the right information, 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. Sample and results are indissolubly bound by the barcode and the chances for errors are nil. Another great advantage faster reporting. It is much more customer friendly and clearly appreciated, from customer responses.
Use a LIMS that easily adapts to your working environment. As in many labs, there are constant changes at the COKZ. A LIMS has to be flexible and adaptable and change accordingly. The COKZ started with a DOS version of STARLIMS in 1994. In the lab and field this meant substituting the use of forms and other paperwork methods to screens and barcode readers. At the beginning this was only performed for the milk powder product group. Later, when we moved to the STARLIMS Windows version, the product groups expanded to cover cheese, butter, liquid dairy products and infant products. Later still, when national and international regulations and quality standards were tightened up, our quality control programs were altered. Our LIMS was easily adaptable. We further added new product groups, new analyses and coupled our lab instruments directly to STARLIMS. For a few years now, there has been additional functionality performing cost calculations and sending invoices via STARLIMS. Additionally, STARLIMS administrates the organizations proficiency tests, for chemical products management and as a database for information on hazardous compounds. The management of a LIMS is a continuous process of adaptation and optimization. This is not due to the software, we have never had a crash up till now, but because continuous developments within the organization requires them.”
Van Valenberg resumes: “through daily use, our employees have realized how STARLIMS can help them to ease their work loads and improve quality at the same time. I receive assistance from Marjanne van den Brink, senior analyst and application manager for STARLIMS. Like me, she is all for reducing the paper trail in the laboratory. At the beginning information was recorded in the computer and on paper. However, more writing results in more mistakes. The reduction of paperwork therefore, is favorable to the environment, to improving the efficiency of processes and for quality care. STERlab has propagated this vision as well. Nowadays the unnecessary use of paper has disappeared.
Internally, the quality structures are satisfactory, but things can be improved. As with other organizations the COKZ
is switching from being solely a knowledge center and controlling
institute with high quality standards, to a customer oriented
organization. A high level of specialty know-how remains, but it must be
broadened and shared to achieve thorough and more intense communications
with customer groups. 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. In our opinion this will certainly succeed.
Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point; a system that guarantees the safety of food and that every company has to apply that produces, treats, packages, trades, stores or transports foodstuff.
Today Mr. Valenberg is working at the University of Wageningen as a university lecturer