The Clipper: There are different phases of detection in the Tomra system. Would you please elaborate on that?
Brendan O’Donnell: We start with the hullers with a three-phase system before the sizer in the processing plant and four machines right before the packing. We are using a new machine, called the Tomra 3C: it is a machine which has been designed to be installed with a huller. If you have a 3 C in the huller you are able to track down the mummies. The removal of mummies is a benefit for aflatoxin reduction.
The Clipper: This is step one. Which are the others?
Brendan O’Donnell:The removal of foreign material and mummies makes all the other steps more efficient. The first machines which you see with a processor is the X-ray detection. We don’t recommend the x-ray for every application, for example in Australia it is not necessary because the orchard locations are so remote that any contamination by glas, plastic or other will not or very rarely occur. The advantage of the X-ray is the fact that rejects are real rejects like metal, glas and not the product and the product is very clean.
The Clipper: Are all these phases stand-alones, I mean, can the processor say, I want phase one, but then only phase three?
Brendan O’Donnell:In most cases we are building up our phases with what the processor already has. What we normally don’t have is a ‘perfect’ line. Take a piece of land and then you can do what you want. In most cases the users have a specific need and they want to include new machinery into their existing lines. We are not sorting grains, but we are sorting really high value products, and one per cent in your recovery rate can buy your set up every year.
The Clipper: Aflatoxin is a problem, which originally came up in connection with
pistachios. Now it is in the focus for almonds as well. How is Tomra helping
to discover contamination?
Brendan O’Donnell: We inspect the kernel. Our “detox” machine uses double sided lasers. These are specialty lasers with infrared capabilities which are designed to target aflatoxin and defects as well. It is necessary to see the aflatoxin. If it is inside the shell you can’t see it. You need to see some reflection of light coming back from aflatoxin.
The Clipper: I think that you agree with me that the real problem is exactly that. Brown kernels, green kernels are relatively easy to inspect. As regards inspection they are like other nut kernels as hazelnuts or almonds.
Brendan O’Donnell: Our equipment, you know, is really amazing, can do a lot, but looking inside the shell at this point is not possible without an X-ray, but we have an X-ray machine which can detect insect damage inside the shell. The machines are getting better and better in time.
The Clipper: My feeling is that there is a certain reserve on consumers’ side against the application of X-ray.
Brendan O’Donnell: The x-ray is working at extremely low dosage. As you know, people working with x-ray are obliged to wear a badge-dosimeter which monitors any radiation during the process and – don’t forget – the whole process goes so quickly.
The Clipper: What I mean is any residual radiation on the product…
Brendan O’Donnell: I suppose that some people have reservation against X-ray. But you should remember that quite a lot of products are X-rayed before consumption, only to mention spices and other items like that. At this point it is more important to find some foreign material inside the product like glass, shell fragments, stones or metal, really dangerous materials.
The Clipper: Is it possible to detect aflatoxin on an x-ray machine?
Brendan O’Donnell: No, at this point it is not possible. Taking almonds as an example there are very little amounts of inshells – almost nil — exported out of California. If the vast majority of kernels shipped to Europe are is going through our Detox machines before they leaves the US that would be a huge step forward. I would love to see these pre-export checks. Japan is a special case. They have their own method of sampling and pre-export checks are definitely out of question. The contamination is different from year to year due to winter sanitation programs in the orchards, bringing the mummies down and several causes deriving from climatic factors. 2019 was a terrible year for peanuts. We installed quite a lot of detox machines in the production areas; this way is is possible to detect any contamination