The cork industry is a very specialized industry. The fact of working with a natural product means that experience in handling cork is essential for making quality corks.
In recent years, the industry has become more technical and improved processes. In order to collect all the centuries of experience gained in the work of cork, in 1992 the Celiège (European Federation of Cork Producers) drew up a code of good practice for the production of cork stoppers, called Systecode. This Systecode has been renewed over the years, adding the innovations made by the companies, until the current version (version 7.1 of the year 2020).
The most important objectives of Systecode are the following:
- Guarantee the traceability of the corks.
- Ensure manufacturing practices in accordance with the industry of products in contact with food.
- Keep the risks and critical points of the industry under control in order to obtain a quality product guaranteeing compliance with UNE and ISO standards for cork stoppers.
These objectives are ensured by an independent annual audit carried out by Bureau Veritas. In these audits, the good practices of all the company's processes, the traceability of the product and whether all the necessary laboratory controls have been carried out are verified.
If we focus on the laboratory controls that must be done in Systecode, we can make three large groups:
– Essays for guarantee the quality of the corks: these tests are based on the UNE and ISO standards for cork stoppers. For each batch of caps produced, an analysis frequency is fixed, which is particularly high in the case of companies that have SYSTECODE PREMIUM OR EXCELLENCE. The analyzes that are requested are:
- Physical tests to check the mechanical functionality of the caps (dimensions, moisture, tensile strength, tightness, torsion...).
- Sensory tests intended to ensure the organoleptic neutrality of the product.
- Microbiological tests intended to ensure the absence of microorganisms that could generate aromatic defects in the future.
- Chemical tests aimed at ensuring the absence of compounds that could modify the wine/sparkling wine (haloanisoles, peroxide residues, dust...).
In this section, the Systecode is also an essential guide to make a representative sampling of the corks, a fundamental aspect in the case of cork as it is a natural and heterogeneous product.
- Tests to guarantee the food safety of the corks. In this section tests are carried out on ready-to-use caps in accordance with current regulations for products in contact with food. These tests are as follows:
- Ochratoxin A.
- Heavy metals.
- Global migration by simulating ethanol and acetic acid.
- Specific migration of compounds derived from the use of chemical products used in the manufacture of caps.
– Essays of control of critical points within the industry: in the cork industry there are defined risks and critical points that are particular to this sector. In order to minimize these risks, the facilities and all the auxiliary products involved in the cap production process are controlled. These controls are as follows:
- Control of boiling water and washing of caps (haloanisoles and halophenols, chlorinated pesticides, free chlorine, oxidizability...).
- Control of haloanisoles and halophenols in the environment of the cork industry.
- Control of haloanisoles and halophenols in packaging cartons.
- Control of haloanisoles and halophenols in wood products, mostly pallets.
Obtaining Systecode certification for cork companies is an advantage to ensure a product with the highest quality minimizing the risk of customer complaints, in addition to avoiding labor intrusion by companies that do not manufacture with the same rigor . It is also a guarantee of compliance with the regulations in the face of inspections by the health authority.
The set of all aspects mentioned in this article guarantees that a winery that hires a company with the Systecode certificate ensures the purchase of top quality corks.