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3 Filter Factors for Lactose-Free Processing Plants

The demand for lactose-free dairy products is rising among consumers who struggle to digest lactose, the primary sugar in milk and other dairy products. In fact, the lactose-free market is the fastest growing segment in the dairy industry, with lactose-free milk leading the charge.

According to the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA), nearly 50 million adults in the United States are lactose intolerant and seek alternative dietary options to replace widely used traditional dairy products. This population, along with those wanting to consume less sugar, and more national attention on “gut health,” has created a sub-culture for lactose-free products. While still considered a “young” market, the lactose-free industry is evolving with new players continuing to emerge

The most common process for making lactose-free products is called ultrafiltration (UF), which removes most of the lactose and converts any remaining lactose by adding a lactase enzyme. This works by splitting the milk sugar into its component sugars of galactose and glucose. A special filtration process is needed to create these specialty products in a highly controlled environment. Due to the tightly regulated food and beverage industry, processors face increased scrutiny.

To help relieve some pressure, below are three important factors, sample scenarios and pro tips to consider when assessing your filtration needs for processing lactose-free products:

1. Reliability

Filtration is integral to the development of lactose-free products. Sturdy, dependable filters are pivotal to the processing and manufacturing of a pure product. Reliable filters also keep plant lines running with less downtime, and should include:

  • Bacterial log retention value (LRV) of 7 or greater
  • Polyethersulfone (PES) membrane media for strong flow characteristics
  • FDA CFR Title 21 compliant materials
  • Certification to 3-A Sanitary Standards

Scenario: During the research and development stage of creating a new lactose-free chocolate milk at your facility, the QA team discovers the lactase enzyme is contaminating the final product. The team quickly needs to investigate how they are sterilizing the lactase prior to adding it to the chocolate milk and make adjustments to the process.

Pro tip 1: Implement integrity testing procedures to ensure the filtration processes for your lactose-free product lines are operating as designed and the filters are not leaving your end product vulnerable to contamination.

Pro tip 2: Before testing a new lactose-free product at your plant, examine the line’s current filters to check their suitability for enzyme dosing applications. Enzyme dosing typically occurs after the pasteurization process, so proper filtration is critical to help prevent product spoilage.

2. Durability

The shape and structure of filters matter for different types of filtration processes. The composition of liquid filters can impact their performance and service life as well as the quality of the final product downstream. Many applications, like lactose-free processing, put considerable stress on filter elements. Processors should ensure the filter quality and capability matches their processing requirements. Important considerations for filters include:

  • Easy installation without risking damage to the element and media
  • Handles tougher working conditions
  • Withstands frequent sterilization cycles
  • Long filter life due to durable construction
  • Requires less frequent replacements to optimize cost savings

Scenario: The filters in your lactose-free production line are not able to withstand multiple sterilization cycles and need to frequently be replaced. This is driving up your costs in multiple ways – part replacement, time and labor, and production downtime. You wonder if it’s time to start investigating other filters that can withstand more sterilization cycles and provide a longer service life.

Pro tip: Think about your current filter installation process. Does it take a long time? Or are you damaging any filters during installation due to the force used to snap them into place? Consider the shape of your filters and whether the movement to secure them is a natural movement. If so, the outer housing and inner media of your filters should be ready to work from day one.

3. Availability and Scalability

Partner with a reputable filter provider that meets your facility’s needs, can scale up or down, and that you can trust. These are important factors in running a successful processing operation. Look for these essential qualities when selecting a vendor:

  • A partner that can help reduce downtime and offer a reliable product inventory
  • A partner that can grow with your organization and has the ability to scale up when a new or specialty line like a lactose-free product is introduced
  • A single-source supplier with deep expertise and strong customer service skills

Scenario: Your dairy plant uses several different brands of filters and consistent part replacement has become an ongoing obstacle, especially for your specialty lactose-free lines. You are looking to streamline and buy best-in-class filters from one supplier to run a reliable and effective production line.

Pro tip: When looking for a new filter provider, take time to research, read brand reviews and talk with outside industry experts for insights and advice. Ask your preferred partners to walk you through product demos and if they offer a pilot program before making an official move to a new vendor.

Donaldson provides its LifeTec™ line of filtration elements to several industry-leading dairy companies. They offer strong, long-lasting process protection with high flow rates. Donaldson’s proprietary line of filters has enabled companies to run efficient filtration processes for the lactose-free market, meet food safety and quality requirements, gain efficiencies, and lower production costs.

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