Commercial production of Spirulina involves four stages: (a) culturing, (b) harvesting, (c) drying, and (d) packaging. All these steps can affect the final yield and/or quality of the product. Careful and routine monitoring of these processes is therefore essential to the successful economic production of high-quality Spirulina that meets the often strict quality and safety requirements of the food and supplement industry.
The production process involves a closed-loop system where material is recycled continuously and the only loss of material is through evaporation. The recycling of the growth medium takes place over the entire production season. A semicontinuous culture system is employed where each pond is harvested to the extent that it has grown over the last 24 h. The medium is recycled back to the same pond where it came from for optimizing growth and for traceability of the production lot in case there is a problem. Make-up nutrient is supplied routinely to replenish uptake by the harvested algae. Nutrients are monitored and adjusted by laboratory chemists who conduct daily tests to assure consistency and optimal conditions. Ponds are harvested daily. The culture is transferred with a pump through PVC pipes into a dedicated processing building where it is transferred to stainless-steel screens to rinse and concentrate the biomass. The biomass slurry is then transferred to a vacuum belt, which further dehydrates the biomass as a paste and subjects it to a final washing step. The A. platensis paste is then pumped into a spray dryer to remove the moisture, resulting in the free-flowing fine powder known commonly as Spirulina. The entire process from pond to powder takes less than 15 min. Samples of the powder are collected in sterilized bags, labeled, and transferred to the Quality Control Laboratory for microbiological assays and other quality-control analyses. The laboratory staff logs all data collected onto written sheets and into a database on the computer network. The Quality Control Department releases the product for packaging and inventory once the analysis shows that the product meets quality and safety requirements.
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