What is your immediate reaction to the image on this page? If you are like most people, you probably view mold so offensively that you forgot it’s a living organism — a plant that multiplies through its prolific spores, which travel far and wide before they take root on a host.
But it’s not merely a plant. Under the right conditions — e.g., high temperatures, moisture, still air, and the absence of daylight — mold flourishes, usually dangerously so. Some molds are toxic to humans (e.g., aspergillus fumigatus); they can trigger allergic reactions or respiratory complications. Some even produce “mycotoxins,” which are poisonous and can cause illness. Mycotoxins can be found mostly in grain and nut crops. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations estimates that a quarter of the world’s food crops are affected by mycotoxins.
One of the most dangerous elements of mold is how illusory it can be. It is usually only partly visible on the surface of the product that is hosting it. It can be mistaken as an unusual color or bruising; at worst, it may look like a vague sort of coating. But this seemingly slight signal can disguise how deeply rooted within the product that mold truly is, often carrying poisonous substances and spreading toxins.
According to Jeff Beer, Technical Director for Fres-co System USA, there are three main ways to prevent mold:
Beer explains that, as a grain, horse feed and other animal feed products can be particularly susceptible to mold. “Many feed producers add preservatives to fight mold,” he says. “An aseptic processing system is one of several ways to destroy mold in foods right at the start. Then hermetic packages, like Fres-co’s, provide barrier protection that can keep those mold inhibitors from escaping. A more porous barrier, such as paper, is not so effective. We have one feed customer whose shelf life went from a few days to weeks because of the packaging we provided.”
Beer explained how water contained in food that is not bound to food molecules can support the growth of bacteria, yeast, and mold. The term for this uncontrolled water is water activity. Most foods have a level of water activity that will support the growth of mold, as well as bacteria and yeasts.
“It’s important to note that the water activity of a food is distinct from its moisture content,” says Beer. “Food designers use water activity to formulate shelf-stable food. If a product is kept carefully below a certain water activity, then mold growth is inhibited. This results in a longer shelf life.”
Beer pointed out how hermetic sealing can be important in other parts of agriculture, most notably the corn industry. According to a May 2016 press release from the National Corn Growers Association, exports of U.S. corn and corn products generated $74.7 billion in annual economic output in 2014.
“Seed corn is an expensive hybrid,” says Beer. “We need to deliver it in pristine condition. Seed manufacturers go through a drying process that helps inhibit the growth of mold. Hermetic barrier packaging helps in seed preservation.”
Beer emphasizes how important it is to know the chemical properties of a customer’s products. While this ability is key in certain food categories like coffee and tomatoes, it is uniquely pertinent in agricultural products. He pointed out that feed products contain certain organic acids that easily penetrate non-barrier packaging. He also added how Fres-co successfully packages product preservatives themselves. But in the end, it is the hermetic seal that is all important.
“Remember, we are blocking the ingress or egress of moisture or oxygen,” says Beer. “The mold can’t get in; the mold preventatives can’t get out. That’s our job at Fres-co. It’s what we do.”
Click here to learn more about how the Termalock industrial sealing system from Fres-co supports the producers, distributors and users of various products that may suffer from mold. While you are on our site, check out the other pages that tell of the wide range of products that the Termalock industrial sealing system protects against dehydration, moisture and oxidation.
Topics: vacuum sealing
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