Seeds are great food. They are great additives to salads and other food items. They are not only a great source of nutrition; they also add a great flavour and crunchy texture to the food they are added to. But seeds are difficult to process from supply chain point of view. They are live. They are the source of life of new plant and contain the essentials for growth and nutrition of seedlings. They are designed by nature to sustain harsh conditions and yet grow into a plant when conditions are right. However, this very advantage of theirs is the reason that they are favourite of bacteria (such as salmonella) and fungus as well. Seeds can develop pathogens at any time during their transportation and storage. The long duration of storage before they are consumed, makes them susceptible to develop pathogens at any time during their journey from the plant to the table. Not only that, during their journey there is a risk that the seed may die, losing essential enzymes and proteins and thus changing its taste. Because of these reasons seed processing and packaging requires a special setup for their supply chain management. An experienced 3PL would have a separate processing for seeds and grains to ensure high yield and high viability of the seeds, when it reaches to the table of the end consumer.
Seeds are grown and transported across thousands of kilometres. They move from the places where nature intended them to reproduce to places where human intend to consume them. The transportation to the place of consumption and place of consumption itself are harsh for the seeds and full of pathogens that seeds are not designed to sustain. Not only that, seeds collect waste, stones and sometimes metal pieces while being processed by machines. The net effect is that the yield of useful, edible, high quality seed is very low. There are numerous incidents when the whole batch of seeds has been rejected due to health considerations. The sterilization process controls the pathogens in the seed and enables the batch to meet the health and safety standards by following the below mentioned steps.
Large screening: The heavy contamination particles (stones, metal, droppings) are easier to remove. Filtering the seed through right mesh size and passing through a metal screen usual does a great work of removing these. However, for finer contamination, such as bird droppings, feathers, light weed seeds etc. the process is little tricky. The blow air technique is used to filter these. The seeds are passed through of flow of air. The air pressure is just right so that everything except the seed is blown away and just the seeds drop in the collection bin or for very light seeds, just the seeds are blown and collected and everything else drops in the waste collection.
Sterilization: There are various processes that reduce the bacteria, mould and general infectious substances in the seed. For example, fumigation is passing antibacterial fumes through the seed. While it kills the bacteria, it leaves small amount of chemical on the seed. These can be cleaned with water, but that brings its own challenges. Dry heat processing kills the germs very effectively. Process the seed through very high heat for little time. However, this process is known to alter the taste of the seed. The seeds tend to retain the heat and get cooked (even if by a very small amount). Some seeds even die and change the texture completely due to heat. Dry steam processing is another technique that claims to give good results, but suffers from drawback of exposing the seed to very high temperatures and it also leaves some residual water on the seed. Though all the techniques are excellent, none of them offer high yield assurance with little or no change to the flavour and texture of the seed. Pasteurization, fumigation, irradiation etc. have not really met the expectation that customers have from a sterilization process.
A newer technique of organic micro reduction which involves using oxygen to kill bacteria like salmonella has much higher yield. The seed is coated with a liquid solution. The solution harnesses the power of oxygen to neutralize the pathogens and provides total coverage. The liquid then biodegrades leaving the seed unaltered. The seed is completely safe, sterilized, organic, raw and viable, just as nature intended it to be. The validated intervention system ensures application to every individual seed. The complete commercial system such as NEO PURE also includes the option of a dryer, where the seeds are coated with solutions that dry off faster to ensure completely dry consistent seeds, leaving a completely dry and viable seed. The process is used by many suppliers for almost any kind of non-sprouted grain and non-sprouted seed.
Repackaging and screening: The processed seeds are then packed into small quantity packing as required for retail. The care must be taken that the packing material is itself sterilized and free of all micro bacterial culture, and does not allow any water or air to pass into the packing, to the seeds during shipping and storage. The retail packs are then passed through a final metal screening to ensure that there is no metal piece that has escaped into the final outgoing product. This screening is usually done using x-ray technique which is harmless to the seeds.
So, as we see that seeds and grains are gaining popularity as food toppings, right from breads to salads; it is imperative that vendors adapt to newer sterilization techniques for better business results. With newer techniques of sterilization, the vendor can ensure that his seeds are safe, healthy and nutritious, when they reach the consumer and we all know that Happy Customers mean Happy Business!