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A closer look

TOMRA helps China’s food manufacturers to reduce the danger of lethal aflatoxin

18 November 2016


Cancer is the leading cause of death in China, with rising mortality rates making it the country’s top public health threat. Liver disease is by far the most common form of the disease, with diagnoses rising at an alarming rate. Worldwide, China accounts for 55 percent of all liver cancer cases.

Although there are many causes of liver cancer, most are avoidable, with lifestyle choices such as smoking and drinking being key contributors. However, one of the leading factors is contaminated food, which – although avoidable – often cannot be controlled by members of the public.

Aflatoxin, a natural toxin produced by fungus and mold and found in certain foods, is an ongoing threat to China and its population. The toxin can be found in a number of food types but it is most commonly encountered in grains such as rice and corn, soybeans, certain cooking oils, and nuts – particularly peanuts. Research shows that the chronic intake of foods infected with aflatoxin can increase the risk of dying from liver cancer by up to 66 percent. It is classified as a group 1 carcinogenic agent by the World Health Organization, and is estimated to be 68 times more deadly than arsenic.

Aflatoxin generally grows in damp environments, such as storehouses that are not kept below a certain humidity level, and the substance can quickly spread once it develops, infecting other food and products. As it is colorless and tasteless, it can be extremely difficult to identify. Additionally, the toxin can withstand temperatures up to 280℃, meaning cooking or boiling it is ineffective at killing it. As a result, many traditional methods and technologies have proven ineffective and it is very difficult to detect or remove.

TOMRA works with China’s food manufacturers to combat the aflatoxin threat

Aflatoxin is not only a major health threat, but it is also a commercial and logistical issue for many Chinese food exporters. Grains and nuts exported from China are frequently rejected by customs officers at international borders due to excessive aflatoxin levels. This is further compounded by the differing restrictions on allowed levels in many zones, ranging from 2 ug/kg in the EU to 20 ug/kg in the US.

As the global pioneer in sensor-based sorting, TOMRA continues to dynamically drive the development of more efficient sensors to enhance customer processing lines. TOMRA fully understands the importance of eliminating aflatoxin from the food manufacturing process and ensuring food safety to protect consumers in China and around the world. As such, TOMRA has collaborated closely with Chinese food manufacturers and processors to ensure better food quality.

To enable Chinese food processors to supply consistently high-quality food and also conform to the strict food safety standards enforced by many importing countries, TOMRA develops and delivers cutting-edge sensor-based sorting technology that is tailored to the Chinese market.

The laser sorters utilize a special optical design that can detect aflatoxin contamination. It works by identifying the extremely low intensity of light reflected by the aflatoxin mold and fungus in a variety of food types, from nuts, such as peanuts, almonds and hazelnuts, to dried fruit, like figs. Infected food can then be removed and eliminated from the production process, helping to ensure a compliant end produce.

TOMRA’s new generation Nimbus BSI free-fall sorter: the answer to the aflatoxin challenge

The Nimbus BSI free-fall laser sorting machine combines a number of ground-breaking technologies to help reduce the threat of aflatoxin. The machine is capable of detecting infected products, as well as discoloration, misshapen products and foreign materials. The result is the removal of food that is a threat to public health, as well as meeting the increasingly high quality demands from the Chinese consumers. This technology contributed to the Nimbus BSI being awarded the Innovation Award at the World Nut and Dried Fruit Congress.

As well as state-of-the-art laser detection technology and a BSI module specifically designed to identify the material’s unique fingerprint, the Nimbus is also able to sort based on various biological characteristics, such as chlorophyll. The machine can also detect other fungal toxins, such as mycotoxins, and water. Oil levels can also be checked.

The result is consistently high-quality output that helps to satisfy business and consumer requirements while also helping to safeguard public health.