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How to care for your commodities

Suma supplies a wide range of commodities in bulk, catering and retail sizes
including dried beans, cereals, fruit and grains. This guide gives you further
information about caring for your commodities and answers some of the
questions we are most often asked.

Crops

Commodities are agricultural products which are cropped once a year –
usually from September to December in the Northern Hemisphere or May to
July in the Southern Hemisphere. Generally one crop is harvested and stored
to supply the food industry until the following year. Environmental factors
such as drought, heavy rains, infestations and natural disaster all affect the
supply, price and quality of each crop each year. In some years a particular
crop may be of poor quality or prone to infestation or mould.

Storage

Store commodities in a clean dry place, off the floor and out of direct sunlight.
Shelving which is easy to clean and without nooks and crannies to harbour
dust and dirt is better. Pallets which are movable and replaceable are also
practical. Most commodities are better kept cool – about 8C is ideal. Warmer
conditions will reduce the shelf life and quality of commodities and can
encourage infestations, fermentation, or sugaring.

Rotation

As with any food stuff, commodities should always be properly rotated so that
the older stock is used first. This prevents food getting old and forgotten in
storerooms – exacerbating any quality problems – and aids in traceability
should a product re-call be necessary.

Best before dates for commodities

Bulk commodities (ie not for sale to end users) do not require a best-before
date to be printed on them. Suma, however, requires its suppliers to give a
crop date, a packing date or a best before date. If there is no date on the
packaging but you would like a date, please contact the Suma QC Team, who
will be able to supply one for you. Most commodities will last 12 months at
least in optimum storage conditions although excessive warmth generally
leads to a more rapid deterioration in quality. Beans and pulses can last for
years but cooking time will increase the older the product gets.
Suma retail and catering commodities all have a best before date printed on
the packaging.

Batch Codes (and product re-calls)

Most commodities will have some sort of batch code printed on the sack, box
or even a label stitched into the sack. Sometimes the best before date is in
the batch code. It is important that batch codes are recorded somewhere to
aid product traceability. If the commodities are decanted from their original
packaging, the batch details should be recorded for use in the event of any
subsequent problem with the stock. At Suma, we can trace which batch you
have bought from us if you can tell us the invoice number detailing the stock
you purchased.

Should Suma become aware of a quality issue with a product which you have
bought that requires a product re-call, we will write to you (or phone) and
advise you of the details. We will, however, expect you to have kept your own
records of the commodities you have bought, invoices they were purchased
on and batch codes of the stock. Suma works closely with the local
Environmental Health Team and any product re-calls deemed serious enough
are publicised on the FSA website. We recommend that you check the FSA
website periodically (www.food.gov.uk) for product re-call information
relevant to all suppliers.

If you experience a problem with your commodities which could pose a
serious health risk, please contact the Suma QC Team immediately and let us
know.

Segregation

Once a box, sack or packet has been opened, the contents should be kept in
a sealed container – food bins with tight fitting lids and other food storage
containers are ideal. If you keep quite a lot of products together, e.g. in a
storeroom, this will stop the spread of pests, discourage rodents and minimise
food spills. If you decant a box, sack or packet, make sure you keep the
batch details and best before date – these can usually be cut off the
packaging and taped to the bin. Ensure bins and containers are thoroughly
washed out and dried between batches to minimise the risk of infestation.

Common problems with Commodities

Sugaring

If dried fruit is subjected to a range of temperatures, a solution of sugar can
form a deposit on the outside of the fruit while warm (giving it a heathy shine)
but when cooled will form into whitish yellow sugar crystals which can be
mistaken for mould. Sugaring is natural for dried fruit and does not impair
flavour although it may make figs, dates, vanilla pods and prunes look odd.
You can tell sugaring from mould as sugaring is in the form of crystals and
may twinkle slightly when moved under strong light – it will also taste sweet
when sampled. If in doubt, however, check with your supplier.

Mould

Mould can sometimes be found on the surface of nuts, dried pulses and fruits.
Mould is usually furry and carpet-like when seen under a microscope, rather
than crystalline.

Fermentation

Fruit that has been kept too warm for too long can start to ferment – there is
usually a strong, fruity, vinegary or alcohol-like smell and the fruit will be soft,
shiny and excessively moist or even wet. Fermentation can be an indicator of
the presence of sugar mite on the fruit.

Ergot

Wheat-based products can sometimes be contaminated with Ergot, a fungus
which occurs in open fields, particularly in damp years. Ergot is small, hard,
dark to mid-brown and can appear as round or more elongated sausage
shapes. It is sometimes mistakenly identified as rodent droppings. However,
when broken in half, ergot is white in the middle – not brown.

Infestations

Commodities are natural products, grown out of doors and will inevitably have
some traces of insect life in them. Organic standards aim to reduce the use of
artificial pesticides and organically produced commodities may therefore
contain more traces of insects as a less harsh approach is used in their
cultivation. Life-cycles of insects are fairly short and so one egg in a sack of
rice can become a whole colony if left undisturbed for sufficient time.
Some commodities are fumigated to destroy any pests which may have been
inadvertently harvested but organic crops cannot be fumigated. Therefore
some commodities are frozen for 6-8 weeks to eliminate food pests. If a crop
has been frozen or fumigated, there may be the occasional ‘body’ found in the
commodities but no infestation. It is therefore important to note whether any
creature found is dead or alive.

Common infestations in stored food stuffs include:

Sugar mites

Very small mites not visible to the naked eye, which build up on dried fruit and
some seeds like a white to white-brown dust. It is necessary to stare at a
small ‘dot’ of dust to see if it’s actually moving. Sugar mites can often cause
fermentation in fruit and so a tell-tale sign is a strong, fruity smell verging on
alcohol.

Moths

Generally Indian Meal Moth or Warehouse Moth can sometimes be found in
rice, nuts, fruits and cereals. The larger Flour Mill Moth can be found in flours.
The moth life-cycle starts with small pale yellow maggots which leave a trail of
silk (rather like a spider) behind. The silk is known as webbing and is a telltale
sign – small pieces of skins, broken nuts and dust will get caught on the
webbing and make it more visible, resembling a kind of chandelier. The
maggots soon develop into small, brown moths which can escape from the
packaging by chewing holes before looking for somewhere else to lay eggs.
Suma uses moth-pots and pheromone pads to detect fugitive moths and
identify potential sources of infestation very quickly.

Beetles and Weevils

There are many species. Beetles are probably the only food pest that can live
in dried pulses but can also be found in rice and large dried fruits such as figs.
Grains are very popular with weevils – particularly wheat grain. Beetles seem
to like the light and are easily spotted by opening a sack or box and letting it
sit for five minutes in the light. Any beetles or weevils are likely to start
making their way up to the top of the sack. Other tell-tale signs are very small
holes bored in the beans or grains.

Foreign bodies

When commodities are sold in bulk, they can often contain a small percentage
of foreign material, up to 0.1% is quite common. This can be natural material
such as twigs, earth or small stones but occasionally other man-made items
such as small shards of pottery, litter (cigarette ends, matches, papers) or
glass fragments can be found. Produce from China such as pumpkin seeds
or sunflower seeds suffer particularly from man-made foreign bodies because
quantities of these can be found in the fields where they are grown. Although
every attempt is made to sift out foreign bodies, machinery may not detect
items which are similar in colour or weight to the product itself. Therefore it is
always recommended that before using bulk commodities they are visually
checked.

Guarding against Infestations

You must check your stock regularly – infestations most often occur in
undisturbed stock kept in a warm place. Life-cycles of insects are short so
one egg in a sack of rice can trigger a minor population explosion if left
undisturbed for as little as a month. A weekly check is therefore advisable.
If you find an infestation, remove the stock from your building as soon as
possible. Take it outside, wrap it securely in bin liners and store it somewhere
dry – a shed or garage is ideal – until you’ve agreed with your supplier that it is
to be returned or disposed of and at whose cost.

Check all stock in the vicinity to make sure that the infestation has not spread.
Remove any other stock if it is found to be infested. Move stock and clean the
area very carefully – small insects and eggs can get into the tiniest cracks.
Vacuum up all food spills, wipe shelving or replace pallets and clean up dusty
corners. A sanitising spray (mostly alcohol) can be purchased which is
acceptable to organic standards and which destroys eggs if sprayed on
surfaces and left to evaporate.

Suma Emergency Numbers

Suma QC team are happy to help and advise you with any problems or
queries you have regarding commodities. For a quick response please email
qc@suma.coop or phone the main Suma switchboard 0845 458 2290 and ask
for the QC Team.

In case of emergency out of office hours you can contact the Suma QC Team
on our emergency mobile numbers. Suma customers and suppliers can
request the emergency phone number from the QC Team.