Rice Quarterly: Just for the taste

by Suzi Fraser
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By Suzi Fraser Dominy

The new rice processing facility in Ishikari City, owned by the Hokuren Federation of Agricultural Cooperatives, has the capacity to process 135,000 tonnes brown rice per year and occupies 169,000 cubic meters in a five-story building, which was constructed by Obayashi Corporation. The plant, which has total installed power of 3,200 horsepower, is equipped with machinery supplied by Satake Corporation.

The new plant has been built to meet the needs of the region’s producers and consumers and includes facilities for presentations, exchanging information on the rice milling industry and for observation tours.

The former four separate Hokuren plants around Hokkaido have been consolidated into this one new main plant in Ishikari City, with one satellite plant in Sunagawa City. The new Hokuren Pearl Rice Plant went into full production on July 1, 2002, after just one month of test-operation.

The new plant comprises five Satake milling lines for white rice, rinse-free rice (Musen-mai) and germ-retained rice (Haiga-mai). The supplemental plant in Sunagawa City produces glutinous rice (Mochi-gome) for Japanese rice cakes and specially milled rice (Saka-mai) for Japanese sake liquor.

There were three distinct concepts behind the new plant. First, it needed to be a food processing plant with great emphasis on safety and hygiene. Secondly, it was to have functional and efficient manufacturing systems. Finally, it needed to provide an educational and demonstration facility, translated from Japanese as ‘a Fan and Fun Factory.’


The new plant was designed with systems to emphasize safety and taste. As a safety measure, the plant has been divided into three separate sections for physical distribution, machinery and an office/observation area. A computerized system controls all the processes in the plant, and continuous quality inspection is performed by an automatic sampling system.

A distinctive feature of the new plant is the traceability function within the management system.

The 35 machinery rooms are divided into four hygienic levels in accordance with HACCP, the international hygiene control standard. The new plant in Ishikari City has applied for ISO 9001 registration, while the Sunagawa Plant is accredited with ISO 9002.

In recognition of environmental concerns, bin mounted filters have been applied, for the first time in this industry, on all pnuematic and air conditioning equipment. Natural gas, produced in Hokkaido, is used instead of kerosene to provide the energy requirements.


The Hokuren Pearl Rice Plant is a good example of a flexible response to producers’ and consumers’ needs. The computerized control system enables the plant to produce a wide variety of products in small quantities. In addition, there are lines for organic rice products to satisfy anticipated future demand.

The new plant has been designed and built with special attention to the production lines, as well as the computerized production control system. Some of the features incorporated in the Satake-supplied equipment are as follows:

• Receiving: Brown rice is first transported to the receiving hopper. The design of this hopper and its dust collecting exhaust system prevents the rice from becoming contaminated by small stones and sand from the trucks. Economical production is improved by the use of an automatic rice bag opener. A separate line is equipped for handling organic rice. As a result, the plant can accept a variety of requests from producers and consumers.

• Cleaning: Removal of foreign objects from the brown rice is carried out at this stage. Husk, immature grains and dust is lifted by a cleaner, after which a rotary magnet removes ferrous metals and iron filings. A destoner removes stones and other metals by application of fluid bed gravity separation. Following this process, the brown rice is conditioned to the required moisture and temperature level, after which it is temporarily held in a tank prior to further processing.

• Rice Milling: There are five milling lines, including one line with a new type of milling system for germ-retained rice. In order to maintain the good quality of the polished rice, the heat generated after polishing is lowered by 5 to 10 degrees centigrade. In addition to the conventional rice milling systems, there are NTWP (New Tasty White Process) systems for producing rinse free rice, which represents a major advance for the final processing of high-grade rice. (See World Grain, April 2002, "New Concepts For Milling White Rice"; E-Archive #52931.)

• Sorting: Broken rice is removed by size separation in the rotary sifter. Impurities of similar size to the rice, including glass and discolored kernels, are removed by color sorters, using both visible and NIR spectra, which eject the contaminants by air jets. The rice is then stored in hygienic stainless steel tanks. A final check is carried out by a ‘Super Checker’ device that uses a newly developed special camera to perfectly remove foreign objects, while vibroscreens and rotary magnets remove any remaining loosened bran and iron filings.

• Packing: The packing section consists of automatic bag loading systems, autopackers for ‘non-hole’ rice bags and lot number printers. Although well proven in the food industry, this is the first application for this equipment in the rice milling industry. ‘No-hole’ rice bags are fed automatically to the autopacker. The filled bags pass through a metal detector, are weighed for final check and a lot number is printed and recorded for each product. The packages are then loaded automatically by a palletizing robot.

• Shipping: The computer control system continues after pallet loading to organize storage, classification and shipment from the warehouse. The products on their pallets are transported to storage by a system called Robotrain. The delivery destination and car allocation is decided by the computerized system.

Having passed through these various processes, tasty Pearl Rice products are now ready for delivery to customers and consumers.


The Hokuren Pearl Rice Plant’s manager told World Grain that the plant was conceived as a one-step advanced food processing plant to establish a brand value from its production of reliable, safe and delicious rice. Secondly, it was desired to include a management system with full traceability. And the final concept was to include a ‘Fan and Fun-factory’ to provide a base for exchanging information.

"We have built the observation facilities here because we would like everyone to become familiar with the processing of rice," the manager explained. "To assist this understanding, the orientation theater uses two types of videos to explain the milling process, both to fifth grade pupils and also to consumers of all ages. We are sure that the fifth grade pupils, who study agriculture in their social studies, will be helped by their visit to this plant," he explained.

"We have excellent flexible equipment and systems in our plant. In particular, Satake’s NTWP (New Tasty White Process) 5-tonnes-per-hour system improves the whiteness of the milled rice by using heated tapioca as a medium for removal of final traces of bran. Employing this new process, we will soon be producing a new product, which is both whiter and has improved taste. I think this new rice product will complement the existing rinse-free rice market."

Another feature of the plant is the presence of an inspector from the Japanese Grain Inspection Association, who acts as a third party observer for quality control.

"We are also planning to conduct experiments in a cooked rice experimental plant," the manager said.

Adding the cooling systems was a new, exciting step for the company. "For over three years, we have been considering a cooling system for application immediately after rice milling," he explained. "We have carried out repeated experiments to demonstrate its practical use.

The Super Checker was introduced into its Sunagawa Plant in 2001, so its benefits were also anticipated.

The Hokuren Federation of Agricultural Cooperatives plans to focus on employee training and pay special attention to developments in related industries to further enhance the capabilities of its new high-tech facility.

"Some of the techniques of handling and hygiene used in other food industries have been helpful for applications in our milling plant," he explained. Nowadays consumers are concerned not only with the physical facilities of the plant, but also the quality of the workers and company’s attitude towards training and hazard management. The physical facilities of our new plant are now some of the best in Japan. It is our intention that our operators are also amongst the best. We will continue to improve ourselves by learning from other industries."