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How to Prevent Grain Contamination

Grain is a major food staple and provides many nutrients for a healthy, balanced diet. However, grains are particularly susceptible to contaminants like fungus and mold that sprout when grain is improperly stored or insufficiently dried. These contaminants, known as mycotoxins, can quickly colonize your crops before harvest or during handling, storage and transportation. In fact, approximately half of all grain harvested globally is lost to poor storage techniques and mycotoxin contamination. 

Because mycotoxin can endanger the health of humans and animals, your grain may be rejected by buyers and result in significant operational costs. Keeping your grain well-managed and stored is key to limiting exposure to all types of contaminants. You can effectively manage contamination with these top prevention techniques. 

Common Grain Contaminants

In addition to mold and mycotoxins, there are many other contaminants that can affect the quality and marketability of your grain, including:

  • Pests: Insects, rodents and other pests can contaminate grain by consuming it, damaging the grain kernels, producing chemical excretions and breeding. Common grain pests include weevils, the lessor grain borer and the Angoumois grain moth. 
  • Foreign materials: It’s possible for foreign materials to contaminate the grain, such as dirt, broken grain, hulls, stones, wood chips, plastics and other fine materials that affect grain quality. Foreign material contamination typically occurs during transportation, handling, processing or storage.
  • Toxic metals: Improper storage can also cause toxic metals to contaminate grain. Certain pesticides, fertilizers and irrigation processes can introduce toxins like arsenic, mercury, chromium, lead and acrylamide.

How Do Grains Get Contaminated?

Grains can become contaminated from various sources, including:

  • Harvesting: Grain damage during harvesting can create favorable conditions for poor aeration, insect infestation and mold growth. Animal feces, sprouted grain and poor human sanitation processes may also introduce pathogens.
  • Storage: Environmental factors like high temperatures, excessive humidity, fertilizers, dust and stormwater runoff can significantly damage grain and lead to contamination. Poor quality storage can also make grain susceptible to insect infestation and prevent optimal temperatures.
  • Transportation: Shipping containers and conditions can lead to contamination risks. For instance, cross-contamination can occur if a previous load of contaminated grain is not properly cleaned. Grains can also be damaged by non-food grade lubricants used to maintain handling or processing equipment.

Grain Storage Best Practices

The most effective way to prevent grain contamination is to implement proper storage techniques. Here are the top considerations for maintaining grain safety and quality. 

Choosing the Right Storage Facilities

1. Choosing the Right Storage Facilities

All grains should be stored in airtight containers with tight closures to prevent mold growth and insects. Some examples of proper grain storage options include:

  • Cushion box
  • Grain bags
  • Grain bins
  • Silos
  • Slide gates
  • Flow valves

Some storage containers are better for long-term storage, while others should only be used for short-term storage. For example, grain bags are sealed to offer airtight protection against the environment, but they’re not usually recommended for reuse. Alternatively, a lined cushion box can protect the grain and minimize cross-contamination during long-term storage. 

You’ll also need to consider the storage location. Ideally, the grain should be stored in a space with good airflow, cool temperatures and away from direct sunlight.

2. Temperature and Humidity Control

Grain can easily spoil if the temperature and moisture content are too high. It’s important to keep grain cool and dry to control insects and prevent mold, which thrives in warm, moist conditions. 

All types of grain have varying moisture content and temperature requirements, but it’s generally recommended to keep stored grain between 50 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit with no more than 15% moisture content at any point during the year. In addition to maintaining these optimal conditions, durable tools and equipment are essential to minimize leakage and dust. 

3. Regular Inspections

Monitoring your grain can help you identify signs of contamination from pests, mold growth or foreign objects. Inspect your grain often to detect any changes in temperature, grain color or odor. A good rule of thumb is to plan scheduled inspections every week to measure grain temperature and moisture. When using temperature sensors, be sure to get several readings on the top, middle and sides of the grain bin for an accurate measurement. 

Equipment Maintenance

The essential role of technology and modern grain flow systems cannot be overstated. As with any food storage process, the equipment you use for handling bulk materials like grain should also be kept in top condition. Damaged or unsanitary equipment can quickly introduce contamination and lead to costly grain waste. Here are some important grain protection tips to keep in mind. 

Farm Equipment and Machinery Maintenance

Proactively maintaining your agricultural equipment is critical for growing, harvesting and storing high-quality grain. Your machinery also plays a key role in your operations, keeping your business running efficiently as it should. In addition to regularly inspecting your grain, it’s important to develop a maintenance plan for your grain-handling products and equipment. Common maintenance tasks might include:

  • Replacing defective components.
  • Interior and exterior inspections.
  • Systematic lubrications.
  • Monitoring for fluid or grain leakages. 
  • Identifying signs of corrosion or damage.

Contamination Risks from Equipment

Poor hygiene protocols and damaged equipment can allow contaminants to enter your grain handling systems. Airborne pathogens, dust accumulation and exposure to chemical fumigants can occur at any stage of grain handling or processing. These contaminants may be found more often in environments with poor inspection, maintenance and cleaning protocols. 

Preventive maintenance and use of protective grain handling equipment can contribute to a supportive environment for quality grain. Investing in durable equipment built for commercial applications with tight seals can reduce lifetime maintenance and effectively control the flow of grain.

Prevent Contamination With High-Quality Grain Handling Equipment

Prevent Contamination With High-Quality Grain Handling Equipment

As a farmer, millwright or contractor, keeping your grain in top condition is critical to your operations. Common contaminants like pests and mold can have a significant impact on your business and lead to unexpected downtime. With the right equipment, you can maintain optimal conditions for safe grain handling and storage. 

At LCDM, we develop custom grain handling products and equipment to protect your grain from contamination and damage. Even with a detailed sanitation, protection and inspection approach, it’s critical to rely on an experienced partner to meet your unique grain flow needs. We offer a variety of solutions, including an Adjustable DBAR Cushion Box, Grain Bin Slide Gate and Full Flow Values. Contact us today to learn more about how we can accommodate your grain operations.

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