Popcorn Sorting Device Created for Damaged Popcorn Kernels
Exciting popcorn news revealed: A device developed by a scientist to sort wheat has now also been successfully used to detect and remove popcorn kernels that have been damaged by fungi pests. Originally an ARS engineer named Tom Pearson in Manhattan, Kansas, developed this low-cost, high-speed device to inspect and separate a variety of grains based on color variations or slight defects. The device was first applied to sorting white and red wheat grains.
This ingenious system was 74% accurate when removing popcorn with fungal damage called blue-eye, and was 91% accurate at recognizing undamaged popcorn. The device uses a specially designed camera linked to a high-tech processor, handles 88 pounds of popcorn per hour! In development is a design for a sorting machine that has much higher accuracy and can handle even greater volumes.
Blue-eye damage in corn is characterized by a small blue spot of the popcorn germ and is caused by certain species of Aspergillus and Penicillin, which can grow under poor storage conditions and can affect up to 20 percent of the popcorn harvest. Blue-eye can be minimized if popcorn is dried before storage to reduce its internal moisture to no more than 14 percent.
Popcorn must have a moisture content of 13.5-14% in order to be popped. Drying the popcorn to just this level brings into question how the popcorn will be stored after the drying. Further drying will reduce the number and quality of popped popcorn and moisture may bring on the blue-eye. Commercial answers are fairly simple ranging from heat and humidity controlled environments to special packaging and handling.
The sorting device combines a color image sensor with what’s called a gate array, which is programmable, with an electrical circuit that will complete image processing on the spot, without the need for an external computer processor. This stand alone technology has far reaching potential in other areas of research and uses, and these many uses for this popcorn technology will be found through trial and error.
The sorter may be useful for detecting and removing other damaged grains and seeds, such as insect-damage, scab-damage on wheat, and bunted wheat. Parts for the system cost less than $2,000, suggesting that it may be economical to simultaneously operate several of the systems to keep up with processing plant rates and thereby create a better product for us, the consumer.