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Spoilage and heating of stored agricultural products

Chapter 1 - Changes that occur during storage

Stored agricultural products are influenced by many factors that determine their keeping quality. These
factors include product condition, storage container or structure, length of storage, and type of handling
(Sinha 1973). Unlike inert materials such as sand, agricultural products in storage change physically and
chemically and need to be managed carefully.
The original condition of a product is probably the most important factor affecting its storage. The
products moisture content (M.C.) and temperature will influence and even direct events that occur during
storage and may sometimes lead to spoilage and self-heating.


During storage, moisture within the product reaches an equilibrium with the air within and between the
product particles and produces a relative humidity level that may be suitable for the growth and
development of deteriorative organisms. In stored seed, the lower limit of moisture content for mold
growth is near the upper limit of moisture content in dry, that is, straight grade seed.
Table 1 shows the maximum moisture content levels at which cereal, pulse, and oilseed can be sold as
straight grade, as permitted under the Canada Grain Act. The levels are subject to periodic revision. If
seed is sold as straight grade and the moisture content levels exceed the values shown in Table 1, a
penalty is charged. The amount of the penalty is determined by the amount of moisture content above the
acceptable level. Because seed with the moisture content levels shown in Table 1 can be sold without
penalty, such values are often assumed to represent safe levels (Moysey and Norum 1975). In practice,
though, the safe moisture content levels are one or two percentage points below those given in Table 1.
This is because some seed lots may have a higher moisture content or a higher level of damage than
others, some may include green weed seed or other debris, and some may have suffered the effects of
temperature variation or high temperature drying (see Part II).

Table 1 - Maximum moisture content levels for straight grade seeds*

Grain Maximum moisture content

Barley 14.8

Canola/rapeseed 10.0

Corn/maize 15.5

Domestic buckwheat 16.0

Domestic mustard seed 9.5

Fababeans 16.0

Flaxseed and solin 10.0

* Percentage wet weight basis (Canadian Grain Commission 2005)

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Grain Maximum moisture content

Lentils 14.0

Oats 13.5

Peas 16.0

Rye 14.0

Safflower 9.5

Soybean 14.0

Sunflower 9.5

Triticale 14.0

Wheat 14.5

* Percentage wet weight basis (Canadian Grain Commission 2005)

Relative humidity
Biological organisms that cause stored products to deteriorate require different levels of relative humidity
for normal development. Generally, the level for bacteria is above 90%, for spoilage molds it is above
70%, and for storage mites it is above 60%. The levels required for insect development range from 30%
to 50%. However, specifying only the relative humidity levels is oversimplifying the physical limits of
deterioration. Both relative humidity and moisture content are dependent upon temperature. For example,
if the temperature of an air sample having a relative humidity level of 50% is increased five degrees from
25C to 30C, its relative humidity level will decrease to 38%. If the temperature of the air sample is
decreased five degrees from 25C to 20C, then the relative humidity level will increase to 69%. The
effects and interactions of temperature, relative humidity, and moisture content on stored products and
their associated organisms are complex. A concise explanation of the theory of moisture in stored produce
is given by Mackay (1967).

Important facts concerning temperature are as follows:

The high temperatures of grain harvested and binned on a hot day are retained within unaerated grain
bulks for many months due to the insulation properties of grain.
Temperature and moisture influence enzymatic and biological activities and thus the rate of spoilage.
Temperature differences within bulk commodities favor mold development through moisture migration
resulting from sinking colder, denser air, followed by rising warmer air and subsequent moisture
adsorption near the top surface.

Safe storage guidelines

Moisture content and temperature determine the safe storage period for any grain or oilseed. The
canola/rapeseed storage time chart (Fig. 1) predicts the keeping quality of canola/rapeseed over 5
months, under varying temperatures and moistures. If the temperature or moisture content of
canola/rapeseed falls within the spoilage area of the chart, take steps to reduce one factor or both. To
reduce the moisture content, either delay combining to allow further drying in the swath or artificially dry
the seed. To reduce the seed temperature, aerate the bin contents. Safe storage guidelines have been
developed to predict the long-term keeping quality of other commodities (Wallace et al. 1983).

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Figure 1 - Canola/rapeseed storage time chart based on seed moisture and temperature at binning.

Respiration and heat production

Respiration occurs in all living cells. Aerobic respiration, occurring in the presence of oxygen, is essentially
responsible for the breakdown of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins to carbon dioxide, water, and energy.
The energy liberated during aerobic respiration is used by the cells to fuel metabolic processes and is then
released as heat.
Dry mature seeds in storage are largely dormant and have a very low respiration. However, freshly
harvested, immature seeds or seeds with a high moisture content have a much higher respiration. This is
because the seeds are still metabolically active and molds that are present on the surface and within the
seed coats are actively respiring. Heat, which is produced by both seed and mold respiration, is manifested
as an increase in grain temperature.

Date Modified: 2009-12-21

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