F.G.I.S. plans to monitor Falling Numbers tests

by Laura Lloyd
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WASHINGTON — The Federal Grain Inspection Service and its Official Service Providers subsidiary expect to begin a quality assurance program to monitor and verify results of the Falling Number wheat quality test, said Edward Avalos, undersecretary for marketing and regulatory reform at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In 2012, more than 25,000 Falling Number tests were performed in the United States on wheat that was sold both domestically and abroad. Under the new plan, the F.G.I.S. will monitor a percentage of all tests performed throughout the official testing system as a means of quality control.

The Falling Number test is well established as a way to determine the pre-harvest quality of wheat. Poor-quality wheat makes for poor-quality flour. The test screens for the deleterious effects on wheat that begins to germinate or sprout in the field or during storage because of elevated moisture levels.

Sprouting allows an enzyme called alpha amylase to break down starch in the wheat kernel. The level and quality of the starch in wheat affects how that wheat functions during the cooking process. Too much sprouting may create sticky dough or may cause baked products to lose their volume and fall flat. Pasta made from sprouted wheat takes longer to cook and has an unpleasantly soft texture, Mr. Avalos said.

The Falling Number method measures the effect and severity of alpha amylase in wheat before it is milled.

The test measures the time it takes for a plunger to fall to the bottom of a precision bore glass tube filled with a heated paste of wheat-meal and water, to which whole ground wheat or flour and water is added. The number of seconds it takes for the plunger to fall through the mixture in the test tubes — hence the term falling number — is a measure of the enzyme activity in the wheat.

The Falling Number test is recognized around the world. Wheat targeted for export must often meet minimum tolerance levels. The new F.G.I.S. quality assurance programs will ensure the accuracy of the Falling Number test by standardizing official testing locations throughout the United States, said Mr. Avalos.

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