Danish expertise makes African camel milk safer

Wednesday 20 Jul 16


Egon Bech Hansen
National Food Institute
+45 35 88 62 03

Danish expertise in milk production and food safety is being put to good use in a Danish development project, which aims to make African camel milk safer to drink and to secure a better use of the milk through developing methods for further processing. The National Food Institute, Technical University of Denmark, heads up the project, in which the local food safety and dairy expertise in East Africa is developed. The other Danish partners in the project are University of Copenhagen and food ingredient producer Chr. Hansen.

Although the camel is probably best known to most Danes because of holiday photos from the Sahara desert the camel is actually a common dairy animal in Africa. Most camels are found in East Africa and camel milk makes up approximately 9% of Africa’s total milk production. 

Most of the milk is sold as unpasteurized drinking milk. Unpasteurized milk represents a serious health risk and the product has a limited shelf life due to microbial spoilage. Production of dairy products with extended shelf life and improved safety will increase the value of the product and reduce the economic loss due to spoilage. 

In a five-year project funded by Denmark’s development cooperation programme, DANIDA, researchers from the National Food Institute are developing the local food safety and dairy production expertise in East Africa. The project is aimed at making the milk safer to drink and at making it possible to produce value-added products, such as cottage cheese.

Boosting food safety

The hygienic practices in the African camel milk production are in many places on par with the standard in Denmark in the middle of the 1700s. Part of the project is therefore aimed at increasing knowledge about basic hygienic practices such as washing hands thoroughly and not milking sick animals to prevent bacteria getting into the raw milk.

Capacity building in Ethiopia

Camel milk is in crucial ways fundamentally different from cow’s milk. Therefore, technologies from the production of cow’s milk products cannot simply be transferring to camel milk products.

Researchers in the project have developed methods and technologies to produce camel milk products. They have e.g. made it possible to use a special kind of rennet from Chr. Hansen A/S to produce curd from camel's milk. The curd can be used directly for the production of various types of fresh cheese.

The project has also made it possible to choose which starter cultures can be used for the production of fermented camel milk products.

Great learning experience for African and Danish students

During the course of the project 10 master’s students and two PhD students from Haramaya University in Ethiopia will be trained in dairy technology and they will study part of their degree in Denmark. The aim is to equip them so they can spread knowledge of microbiology and dairy production in Africa.

A further five Danish bachelor and master’s students also take part in the project. They have all spent a semester at Haramaya University, where they among other things have isolated novel strains of lactic acid bacteria for use as starter cultures. Working under other and more primitive conditions than in Denmark has given the students a unique knowledge and developed their skills as problem solvers.

Visions for the future

Researchers in Denmark and Ethiopia hope to be able to continue the collaboration on camel milk research after the current project finishes. Among other things they are keen to develop local demonstration programmes where new dairies can get an insight into the production process by learning about the necessary equipment and processes as well as download design plans and recipes.

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In the project the National Food Institute is cooperating with the University of Copenhagen, food ingredient producer Chr. Hansen and Haramaya University in Ethiopia.

The project has received 8.5 million Danish kroner in funding from DANIDA. It has also received funding from Laurits Andersens Fond. Read more about the project in the Technical University of Denmark’s research database, DTU Orbit.