Low-cost technologies improve health safety in India’s milk production

A team of researchers from La Trobe University, the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kanpur and Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS) Pilani are collaborating together on a research project to provide a low-cost technological solution to improve the quality of milk in India.

Written by Rei Fortes

Have you ever wondered which country produces the most milk in the world?

The answer is: India. For more than two decades, India has been the largest global milk producer accounting for roughly 19 percent of the world’s milk production. The compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of India’s milk production industry is expected to grow by 4.5 percent reaching 628 million tons over the next two decades.

With increasing demands, small and local milk producers are under high pressure to meet production expectations often leading to quality issues in milk production and supply chain processes to customers.

Mithlesh Meena, Program Manager at the Centre for Technology Infusion, La Trobe University, mentions that a large quantity of milk being produced fails standard quality tests.

“Nearly 50 percent of the Indian milk industry falls under the unorganised sector in rural areas,” says Mr Meena. “It’s the biggest challenge to find a portable testing device that can be used in the field to detect milk quality on the spot.”

Meena explains that instruments currently available for testing milk quality are bulky, expensive to run, and only suitable for lab testing. There is a need to develop a cheaper, battery-powered, and portable milk testing device that can be used regularly at collection centres to ensure milk quality before the pooling process.

To help improve the quality of milk in India, a team of researchers from La Trobe University, the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kanpur and Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS) Pilani are collaborating on a research project to provide a low-cost technological solution.

Professor Aniruddha Desai, Project Leader and Director of the Centre for Technology Infusion explains the technological initiative behind the project and positive impact in improving milk quality in India.

“Our research aims to use next generation sensing and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies, to develop a portable and affordable milk quality sensor system that can easily detect issues such as spoilage, adulteration, and contamination in dairy supply chains,” says Professor Desai.

“We want to enable producers as well as supply chains entities, especially in the unorganised and the cooperative sector, to easily detect quality problems and optimise their operating practices to improve the quality of milk reaching consumers.”

The team is developing a proof-of-concept design for a spectroscopic sensor which can easily detect unwanted molecules present in the milk being tested. Operating the sensor will be data analytic models that are driven by machine learning and data mining algorithms designed by a team of researchers led by Dr Navneet Goyal, a Professor in the Department of Computer Science and Information Systems at BITS Pilani.

“My research focuses on artificial intelligence and machine learning. I work on both the algorithm and application sides of the system for the sensor,” says Professor Goyal.

“The proposal to work on this project came from La Trobe University and since this problem of milk quality is very relevant in India, our team was very delighted to work on the project.”

This allows the sensor to transmit real-time data of the milk concentration at different points in the supply chain process. In order for the sensor algorithms to provide accurate data and insights, the team are working on collecting and analysing baseline milk samples from different states in India including Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Hyderabad.

Dr Shantanu Bhattacharya, Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at IIT Kanpur, specialises in sensors for food security and is experienced in using the analytical technique of spectroscopy. He is assisting the team with examining the milk samples and detecting contaminants found mixed with the milk collected from the organised sector.

“I have a designated role of providing the team with spectral data and analysis of contaminants through samples we collected directly from animals, pooling stations and big markets,” says Professor Bhattacharya. “Then we use machine learning models to start deconstructing the presence of individual chemicals and miro-organisms found in the diluted milk samples.”

Diluting milk products is a common practice among suppliers who fall under the uncategorised sector in India’s milk industry. Professor Bhattacharya further mentions that the team have found other chemical contaminants while collecting milk samples relating to formalin, maltodextrin, starch, sugar, urea, detergent, ammonium salts and sulphates.

With this prevalent issue plaguing India’s milk industry, there is further demand for a cost-effective, efficient, and portable device to test milk products. The team’s proof-of-concept design will serve as an ideal candidate for the industry in reducing the number of diluted and contaminated milk being sold to consumers.

This project is an example of new innovative research supported by the Asian Smart Cities Research Innovation Network (ASRCIN) initiative that is funded by La Trobe University with founding partners BITS Pilani and ITT Kanpur. ASCRIN hosts a variety of research themes and agendas including food safety and security.

Veski has funded this project through the Study Melbourne International Research Partnership Program awarding $2.8 million to major research projects between Victorian institutions and international industry partners. The initiative is to provide strategic support for international research partnerships and projects while growing international relationships for the future.