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Technologies and Equipment Involved in Breakfast Cereal Production and Processing

Five types of breakfast cereal in piles

The process of breakfast cereal production is a complex one – but thanks to excellent modern technologies, top-quality and diverse products can be made effortlessly. What are the technologies and equipment involved in breakfast cereal production and processing that you should know about? We’ve discussed this topic in detail in the following text.

The Development of Cereals Over the Years 

Breakfast cereal is a type of processed food made from grain. Numerous forms of cereal recipes have been created around the world since as early as the discovery of agriculture, cooking them in water to form various forms of gruel and porridge, similar to today’s hot cereals. 

Cold cereals only appeared during the second half of the 19th century. In large part, we have to thank Dr. James Caleb Jackson, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, and Charles William Post for this staple American breakfast. Some companies also use cereal, such as granola cereals, to make cereal bars.

Over the following decades, this once-healthy, whole-grain breakfast food started to be more processed and filled with sugar. Due to successful marketing campaigns, the image of this product changed to quick, convenient, and tasty food. Another factor in the development of cereal was the invention of cornflakes, which quickly became more popular than wheat flakes. Today, 9 out of 10 Americans consume ready-to-eat breakfast cereals on a regular basis.

Boxes of cereals on the shelves in a store
Breakfast cereals have a long history – they have changed throughout the years

Raw Materials Used in Breakfast Cereal Production Lines

Unsurprisingly, the most common raw material used in traditional cereal is grain. The usual grains used are corn, barley, wheat, oats, and rice. Hot cereals like oatmeal, as well as some cold cereals like shredded wheat, have no additional ingredients. However, most cereals feature a multitude of other ingredients, such as salt, sweeteners, yeast, coloring and flavoring agents, added vitamins, minerals, and preservatives.

White and brown sugar, corn syrup, malt obtained from barely, and even concentrated fruit juice are being used as sweeteners in the industry. As far as flavors are concerned, the usual include chocolate, cinnamon, fruit, and other spices. Nuts, dried fruit, and marshmallows are also used for added flavoring. In many cases, vitamins and minerals are also added as a means of making up for the nutrients lost during the cooking process. Preservatives and antioxidants such as BHT and BHA are usually added to cereals to prevent them from going stale or rancid.

A hand holding barley grains
Grains are the basis of a good breakfast cereal 

Technologies and Equipment Involved in Breakfast Cereal Production and Processing

To better understand the food processing technology and equipment that the cereal manufacturing industry uses, we need to look at the manufacturing process for each type of cereal. The first step of the cereal production process is grain preparation. Grain, be it in the form of corn, wheat, oats, or barley, is brought to the cereal facility, inspected, and cleaned. Depending on the materials used and the goal of the production process, the following steps can differ.

Using Grains – Whole or Partial

Depending on the breakfast cereal, grain may be used in the form of whole grains or require some additional processing. In the majority of cases, the whole grain is crushed between metal rollers to remove the outer layer of bran. If whole or partial grains are used, these are mixed with flavoring agents, sweeteners, salt, vitamins, minerals, and water in a rotating pressure cooker. 

All variations, including time, temperature, and rotation speed, depend on the type of grain being used. Once cooked, the grain is moved over a conveying system through a drying oven. It’s important that enough moisture remains in the cooked grain so it will be a soft, solid mass that can be shaped as required.

Flour Can Be Used Instead of Whole or Partial Grains

Sometimes, grain is ground into flour. If ground flour is used instead of whole or partial grain, a twin-screw cooker extruder is used, as opposed to a rotating pressure cooker. These twin-screw extruders mix the flour with the other ingredients, such as salt, water, sweeteners, vitamins, and food coloring. 

They mix and cook the composition as it travels along. At the other end of the extruder, the cooked dough emerges as an elongated ribbon, which is then cut by a rotating knife. The resulting pellets are then processed in a similar manner to cooked grains.

Flaked Cereals Production Process

The most widely consumed breakfast cereals are also the most straightforward to produce. Corn flakes are the most common, but flaked cereals can also be made out of wheat, barley, oats, and rice. In any case, once the grains have been cooked, they are left to cool for several hours so that the moisture content within each grain has a chance to stabilize. This is what’s known in the industry as tempering.

Once this process is complete, the grains are flattened between two large metal rollers under high pressure. The resulting flakes are then transferred via a belt conveyor system to an oven. Inside the oven, they are exposed to a blast of hot air that removes any remaining moisture and toasts the flakes until the desired color and flavor are achieved. It’s important to mention that flaked cereals can also be used to make extruded pellets by using a similar method.

A bowl of cereal with milk
Depending on the type of cereal, there are various production methods

Puffed Cereals Production Process

Puffed cereals are also highly desirable among consumers. Typically, these are made out of rice, but can also be made out of wheat. The ovens used to puff the grains are known as guns. Unlike wheat, puffed rice is easier to produce as it requires no pretreatment. Once the rice is cooked, it is cooled and dried. Next, it’s rolled between metal rollers, similar to flaked cereals, but it’s only partially flattened through a process known as bumping. The bumped rice is then dried once again and placed in a very hot oven where it expands.

Puffed wheat cereal, on the other hand, needs an additional level of treatment to remove the outer layer of bran. This is typically done using grindstones in a process known as pearling. A different process is to soak the wheat grains in saltwater. This brine-like solution hardens the bran, which causes it to break off during the puffing process. 

The grain is then placed in the gun, which is a relatively small vessel that holds hot steam at high pressures. The gun is then opened suddenly to release the pressure and puff the grain. The same process is applied to extruded pellets.

How Shredded Cereals Are Manufactured

Shredded cereal is most commonly made out of wheat. Unlike the other processes mentioned above, this type of cereal is made by boiling the wheat in water so the moisture can fully penetrate the grain. The grain or extruded pellets are then tempered and rolled between two metal rollers. While one of the rollers is flat, the other one is grooved. 

A metal comb is set against the grooved roll, and a tooth is placed inside each groove. Due to its high moisture content, the grain is completely shredded by these teeth, dropping off the rollers as a continuous ribbon. This ribbon is then cut to the appropriate size and baked until the desired color and dryness are achieved.

Granola and Hot Cereals Manufacturing 

Granola and other similar products are typically made of oats and use a mixture of nuts, seeds, fruits, and flavors. These are cooked as a mixture alongside sweetener and oil to bind all the ingredients together. Once finished, these are crumbled to the desired size.

Hot cereals are made by processing the grain, depending on what type it is. Oats are typically rolled or cut, wheat is cracked, and corn is milled into grits. Hot cereals are partially cooked so as to shorten the time it takes the consumer to cook them in hot water or milk. Other ingredients, such as salt or sweeteners, may or may not be added, depending on the recipe.

Tubular conveyor system for manufacturing cereals
Conveyor systems are an integral part of breakfast cereal production

Shaping and Coating System

As most of us know, breakfast cereals come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. These can be loops, letters of the alphabet, animal-shaped – you name it. To achieve the shapes, a die is fitted at the end of the extruder, allowing the ribbon of cooked dough to take the desired cross-section shape, which is then cut by the rotating knife at the desired size. These pieces are processed in a similar way to puffing, but they only partially expand to maintain their shape.

After shaping, some cereals may be coated with sweeteners, vitamins, minerals, different flavors, preservatives, and food coloring. Frosting is applied in a rotating drum by spraying the cereal with a thick layer of sugar syrup. As the syrup dries, it turns into a white layer of frosting.

A man standing next to a conveying system for food processing 
Control at every stage of the process is essential for the quality of the final product 

Conveying and Packaging of the Cereals

While some types of cereal, such as shredded wheat and hot cereals, are fairly resistant to moisture damage and can be placed directly in cardboard boxes, most need to be packed in waterproof and airtight plastic bags. Some typical film materials used in breakfast cereal packaging include:

  • Biaxially-oriented polypropylene (BOPP),
  • Low-density polyethylene (LDPE),
  • Polyethylene terephthalate (PET),
  • Metalized PET,
  • Aluminum foil.

These materials can be used in different combinations. As far as conveying goes, the breakfast cereal industry has traditionally used a variety of conveyor systems – from a simple conveyor belt for a warehouse to aeromechanical, auger, or pneumatic conveyor systems. However, these systems have been struggling to keep up with the breakfast cereal industry’s demands, particularly in terms of cost-efficiency, integration, automation, and cross-contamination. 

Tubular drag conveyors, on the other hand, have proven themselves to provide the necessary flexibility and integration capability with all breakfast cereal types and processes. These conveying systems used in the food industry are ideal for moving the breakfast cereal product through the extrusion, forming, tempering, flaking, and toasting processes, then on through the coating and packaging processes.

Breakfast cereal inside of a tubular conveyor system
Many types of conveyors can be used for cereals, but tubular ones are the best choice

Cablevey Conveyors Offers Top-Quality Conveyor Systems for Cereal Production and Processing 

If you’re looking for the best conveyor belt system or bulk material handling equipment, Cablevey Conveyors has the perfect solution for you that will put your cereal production process on another level. Cablevey’s cereal conveyor systems can move up to 1,500 cubic feet of product per hour in an enclosed tube without the use of air. It also comes available in a multitude of layouts and eliminates the risk of product separation, degradation, or cross-contamination. 

Our industrial conveyor belt systems guarantee an efficient, safe, and effortless production process that will leave you with a well-manufactured product – contact us to get yourself a custom conveyor belt for food and boost your productivity!


What Is the History of Breakfast Cereals?

Breakfast cereals have been around since the discovery of agriculture. Cold cereals emerged in the 19th century, largely credited to Dr. Jackson, Dr. Kellogg, and Charles Post. Over time, cereals became more processed and sugar-rich, with cornflakes overtaking wheat flakes in popularity.

What Raw Materials Are Used in Cereal Production?

Traditional cereals primarily use grains like corn, barley, wheat, oats, and rice. Other ingredients include salt, sweeteners, yeast, coloring, flavoring agents, vitamins, minerals, and preservatives. Sweeteners like sugar, corn syrup, and concentrated fruit juice are also common.

How Are Whole Grains Processed in Cereal Production?

Whole grains undergo crushing to remove the bran’s outer layer. These grains are then mixed with flavoring agents, sweeteners, and other ingredients in a rotating pressure cooker. After cooking, the grain is dried and shaped accordingly.

What Is the Difference Between Using Whole Grains and Flour in Cereal Production?

Whole grains can be used directly, while ground flour requires twin-screw cooker extruders. These extruders mix and cook the flour with other ingredients, forming an elongated ribbon, which is then cut into pellets and processed similarly to cooked grains.

How Are Flaked Cereals Produced?

Flaked cereals involve cooking grains, allowing them to cool and stabilize their moisture content and then flattening them between metal rollers. They’re transferred to an oven, where they’re toasted to achieve the desired color and flavor.

What Are the Methods for Producing Puffed and Shredded Cereals?

Puffed cereals are made using “guns” that puff grains like rice or wheat. Shredded cereals, typically made from wheat, are boiled, tempered, and then shredded by metal rollers. The resulting ribbons are cut and baked to perfection.

How Are Cereals Conveyed and Packaged?

Cereals can go through different conveyor systems, with tubular drag conveyors being the most efficient. Most cereals require waterproof and airtight packaging, using materials like BOPP, LDPE, and PET. Cablevey Conveyors provides top-quality conveyor systems optimized for cereal production.

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