The people behind the products: meet Katarzyna Szkop-Kozdrak, Production Manager – Fermentation, Jozefow Yeast Production Plant, Poland.
Katarzyna is in charge of the whole fermentation process for live yeast LEVUCELL SB and LEVUCELL SC and other wine yeast strains.
Can you introduce yourself and your role in the plant?opi
My name is Katarzyna Szkop-Kozdrak, and I’ve been working for Lallemand since 2014.
My alma mater is Warsaw University of Life Sciences, where I received my master’s and engineering degree in food technology. I specialized in food microbiology and biotechnology.
I started my journey with Lallemand right after graduation. I am responsible for the whole fermentation area. Although, yeast propagation is the most fascinating process. I also focus on the other downstream parts of the yeast production process.
I am an active participant in the drying and packaging step and quality control, which helps ensure optimal quality of the yeast products for our customers.
How did you come to work in yeast production?
My fascination with yeast started when I was studying. Humans benefit from centuries of experience with a wide range of its applications and working in a yeast factory seemed to me as an exciting prospect.
During my third year at university, we had meetings with CEOs from local companies including Lallemand Poland. I introduced myself and announced that I wanted to be part of the Lallemand family! Then I focused the rest of my study on yeast and yeast production. The last two years of my studies were totally devoted to this microorganism! I started at Lallemand with a one-month internship before getting a full-time job.
So, why did you want to work with Lallemand? Was it yeast, the company, the people?
I would say that it’s a combination of all these things! In Poland, there are only two yeast companies and Lallemand was very close to my home. I also knew that Lallemand is a family-owned company, and this is something unique. From the very beginning, I felt like part of the family! I would say I had a gut feeling that this company was special and also unique in the way they treat people.
What do you like about your job today?
Everything! Working in a yeast factory is like writing an endless book – every day is a new chapter. I like the dynamics of all the production processes taking place at the same time in different departments. The factory is a very complex organism that can exist only when all components work together. All of the processes must take place at a certain time, with a certain efficiency and expected quality. It brings challenges, and, on the other hand, the potential for improvement and optimization. When you take it that way, daily work can be very exciting and satisfying!
Several stages of yeast fermentation — drying, microencapsulation, and packaging — are the main technological processes when talking about yeast production. There are also many other downstream steps including water treatment, steam production, and nutrient preparation. One of the most interesting raw materials that we use in our plant is molasses. Quite a big part of the yeast technology is devoted to the proper preparation of molasses, which basically consists of dilution, clarification, and sterilization.
Molasses are the main sugar source and are rich in many other valuable nutrients for yeast, including minerals and vitamins. Apart from desirable constituents, there are also components that can influence yeast growth in a negative way and cause fluctuation in fermentation efficiency. Therefore, it is crucial for yeast growth to optimize and constantly observe fermentation performance to implement actions to minimize negative and enhance positive effects of molasses properties.
Each of the production steps has its own, well-established parameters that have to be controlled tightly to ensure the good quality of the end-product. Temperature, pH, and aeration of cultivation media, nutrient concentration, and many other important factors are to follow online – all these numerical properties are defined based on a given strain predisposition and desired properties.
Day by day, we conduct so many analyses, creating a lot of numbers to be collected, but we have to be aware that “not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts” as Einstein once said. And this is so true for yeast!
Sometimes, even if processes run correctly according to all important criteria, the final properties of the end-product can be unexpected. That is why quality control is so important in yeast production. To minimize these unexpected effects, it is good to stay open-minded, vigilant, and be a patient processes observer. It is worth paying attention to immeasurable production criteria to understand yeast physiology and to find the cause of a particular phenomenon. All of this helps obtain the desired quality and efficiency.
What I enjoy at work are, of course, people! Apart from kilometers of pipes, bioreactors, packaging machines, sensors, and other devices, there are people behind the processes! Especially those who are on the front line — like process operators. It is amazing how the awareness of the process and yeast application can increase their creativity and initiative!
An important part of our job is to let the people feel that they are part of the process. It’s a big project, and this is what I am trying to do. What’s important for me is that I learned a lot from the experience of others, and I try to transfer my own experience. When I finished my studies, I was so ambitious, and my head was bursting with knowledge. Then I started in the plant and there was a gap between my knowledge and the practice. Now I know that it is called lack of experience! I was lucky, and I appreciate that I had people around me with practical experience who helped fill the gap between knowing and doing.
I think that most of the students are struggling with this at first, and it can be really frustrating. Now when we hire young people, I try to help them to get on board. That’s a key to a good start.
In your opinion, what are the most important criteria to produce quality yeast for our customers?
When producing live yeast as feed additive, the most important parameters determining its effectiveness are viability and cell stability.
The positive effects of our probiotic strains on animals’ digestive systems are the result of the biological activity of the live yeast.
Yeast survivability in the digestive tract of the animals; resistance to digestive enzymes and acids; and its modes of action can be guaranteed thanks to its resistance and appropriate numbers of living cells.
The ability to survive these stress factors starts during early fermentation steps, where we try to maximize biomass growth while preparing yeast cells to counter and survive harmful conditions.
To achieve this, we target and steer the metabolism of yeast toward the production of specific biochemical substances, which will later be used for protection from stresses like high temperatures and pressure.
Further steps of biomass processing are also optimized to sustain desirable product characteristics while meeting all other high technological criteria. It also includes employing appropriate packaging materials for modified atmosphere packaging. Through all this work, we are able to guarantee the bioavailability of yeast cell activity during storage and distribution.