Sunflower seeds [German version]

Table of contents

Product information
  Container transport
  Cargo securing

Risk factors and loss prevention:
Temperature Odor
Humidity/Moisture Contamination
Ventilation Mechanical influences
Biotic activity Toxicity / Hazards to health
Gases Shrinkage/Shortage
Self-heating / Spontaneous combustion Insect infestation / Diseases

Product information

Product name

German Sonnenblumenkerne
English Sunflower seeds
French Graine de tournesol
Spanish Pipa de girasol
Scientific Helianthus annuus
CN/HS number * 1206 00 ff.

(* EU Combined Nomenclature/Harmonized System)

Product description

Sunflower seeds are the conical fruits of the sunflower (Helianthus annuus), which belongs to the composite-flower family (Compositae), and are approx. 7.5 – 17 mm long, 9 mm wide and 2 – 2.5 mm thick. Additional typical characteristics are their very light weight and their white, black or white and black striped coloring.

The sunflower comes originally from America, probably from Mexico or Peru. It is an annual composite-flower plant, growing to up to 3 m in height and having brown disc florets and yellow ray florets. The fruit husk and seed coat are fused together into a hard shell, which protects the embryo.

Photo, sunflower

Figure 1

Sunflower seeds are available as in shell and shelled. It is generally in shell sunflower seeds which are transported by sea, as shelled sunflower seeds are very easily destroyed by microorganisms.

Oil content:

19 – 57% [1]
> 20% [11]

Quality / Duration of storage

The most favorable shipping time is generally shortly after harvest; the year of harvest should therefore be ascertained before loading is begun, to avoid transporting excessively old goods.

Intended use

Sunflower seeds are processed to yield sunflower oil or are used as animal feed. They are also cultivated for green fodder and as ornamental plants.


(Click on the Figures to enlarge them.)

Photo, sunflower seeds

Figure 2
Photo, sunflower seeds

Figure 3

Countries of origin

This Table shows only a selection of the most important countries of origin and should not be thought of as exhaustive.

Europe Southern Europe
America South America

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Sunflower seeds are transported as bulk cargo or as break-bulk cargo in bags of woven natural materials (e.g. jute) or woven plastic bags.

Marking of packages
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Keep dry
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Use no hooks
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Keep away
from heat
(solar radiation)

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Symbol, general cargo

General cargo

Bulk cargo

Means of transport

Ship, truck, railroad

Container transport

Ventilated containers (coffee containers), if the lower limits set for the water content of goods, packaging and container flooring and the oil content of the goods are complied with.

Cargo handling

In damp weather (rain, snow), the cargo must be protected from moisture, since it may lead to mold, spoilage and self-heating as a result of increased respiratory activity.

Hooks must not be used in handling bagged goods as they subject the cargo to point loads, so damaging the bags. Due to their shape, plate or bag hooks apply an area load and are thus more suitable for handling bags.

Stowage factor

3.00 m³/t (jute bags, 41 kg) [1]
2.79 – 3.07 m³/t (bags) [11]
2.19 – 2.50 m³/t (bulk) [11]

Stowage space requirements

Cool, dry, good ventilation


Fiber rope, thin fiber nets

Cargo securing

Bagged cargo must be stowed and secured in the means of transport in such a manner that it cannot slip or shift during transport. If loss of volume and degradation of quality are to be avoided, the packages must not be damaged by other articles or items of cargo.

In the case of maritime transport of bulk cargo, the IMO (International Maritime Organization) „Code of Safe Practice for Solid Bulk Cargoes“ must be complied with.

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Risk factors and loss prevention

RF Temperature

Sunflower seeds require particular temperature, humidity/moisture and ventilation conditions (SC VII) (storage climate conditions).

Favorable travel temperature range: 5 – 25°C [1]

Temperatures > 30°C should not prevail for an extended period, as such temperatures promote respiration of the cargo and may cause self-heating. Do not stow near heat sources, in particular not above heated double bottom tanks.

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RF Humidity/Moisture

Sunflower seeds require particular temperature, humidity/moisture and ventilation conditions (SC VII) (storage climate conditions).

Designation Humidity/water content Source
Relative humidity 70% [1]
Water content 7.0 – 9.5% [1]
7.0% (shelled goods) [3]
9.5% (in shell goods) [3]
Maximum equilibrium moisture content 65% [1]

Sunflower seeds must be protected from all forms of moisture (seawater, rain and condensation water), since moisture promotes hydrolytic/enzymatic fat cleavage, which then results in self-heating due to increased respiration. 

The sorption isotherm for sunflower seeds shows that, at a water content of 60 – 72%, they are at equilibrium with a relative humidity of 7 – 9.5%. Moisture may result in mold growth.

Sorption isotherm

Figure 4

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RF Ventilation

Sunflower seeds require particular temperature, humidity/moisture and ventilation conditions (SC VII) (storage climate conditions).

Recommended ventilation conditions: air exchange rate at least 10 changes/hour (airing)

It is advisable to stow so as to leave trenches, so that, where necessary, water vapor and heat may be removed by suitable ventilation measures.

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RF Biotic activity

Sunflower seeds display 2nd order biotic activity.

They are living organs in which respiration processes predominate, because their supply of new nutrients has been cut off by separation from the parent plant.

The fat decomposition which takes place during the course of hydrolytic/enzymatic fat cleavage increases the risk of the cargo undergoing self-heating, possibly ultimately resulting in a cargo fire.

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RF Gases

In sunflower seeds, metabolic processes continue even after harvesting. They absorb oxygen and excrete carbon dioxide (CO2).

Respiration may cause life-threatening CO2 concentrations (TLV: 0.49 vol.%) or O2 shortages in the hold/container. Therefore, before anybody enters the hold, it must be ventilated and a gas measurement carried out.

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RF Self-heating / Spontaneous combustion

Oil content:

19 – 57% [1]
> 20% [11]

Of all oil-bearing seeds, sunflower seeds are the most readily susceptible to self-heating. Fresh goods, in particular, may even succumb to spontaneous combustion. The high oil content together with the high crude fiber content of 25.6% explains the particularly strong tendency to self-heating.

Because of their tendency to self-heating, sunflower seeds may behave like substances from Class 4.2 of the IMDG Code. See also IMO Code of Safe Practice for Solid Bulk Cargoes.

Fat decomposition in oil-bearing seeds/fruits leads to the risk of self-heating and, finally, to a cargo fire.

Fat decomposition may proceed as follows:

by hydrolytic/enzymatic fat cleavage or
by oxidative fat cleavage

Hydrolytic/enzymatic fat cleavage:

If the critical water content of the sunflower seeds is exceeded, this promotes hydrolytic/enzymatic fat cleavage. Fat-cleaving enzymes are activated by the elevated water content. The additional action of light and heat may accelerate this process. Free fatty acids sometimes have an unpleasant odor and taste. In the event of extended storage or improper cargo care, these cause the cargo to become rancid.

The free fatty acids formed are consumed by respiration processes in the sunflower seeds to form carbon dioxide and water, a process which is associated with considerable evolution of heat.

Self-heating of sunflower seeds is an extremely vigorous process, as the consumption of fatty acids by respiration processes is associated with a considerably greater evolution of heat than is the case with the respiration equation for carbohydrates. Here too, as with cereals, the spoilage process proceeds in a type of chain reaction, because heat and water are formed by the fatty acids consumed by respiration, which in turn contribute to an intensification of the process.

The self-heating of sunflower seeds requires only a small seat of moisture, so that within just a few hours heating may occur at moist points for which weeks or months would be required in goods dry on shipment.

Fresh sunflower seeds with a high water content tend in particular towards rapid self-heating and may also ignite. Self-heating of sunflower seeds leads not only to a reduction in the utility value of this product (rancid odor and taste) but also has a qualitative and quantitative effect on oil yield. The color and bleachability of the oils are also negatively affected. The oil obtained complicates refining of the crude oils in subsequent processing, because a higher free fatty acid content makes decolorization substantially more difficult.

Hydrolytic/enzymatic fat cleavage and respiration may be limited by low temperatures; however, this may only be affected to a limited degree during transport. It is therefore important to ensure storage stability by complying with the limit values for the water content of the goods.


Oxidative fat cleavage:

Food components frequently react with atmospheric oxygen in spoilage reactions. Atmospheric oxygen may enter into an addition reaction with unsaturated fatty acids through the simultaneous assistance of light, heat and certain fat companion substances, and possibly also traces of heavy metals. Rancidity caused by oxidative fat cleavage is particularly noticeable in the case of shelled sunflower seeds, because the shelling process results to a certain degree in exposure to atmospheric oxygen or to the steel parts of the ship or the container walls, if not carefully covered with mats. It is therefore absolutely essential to store sunflower seeds in the dark and to protect them from oxygen and metal parts, since otherwise they become brown-colored and develop a rancid odor and taste.

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RF Odor

Active behavior Sunflower seeds have a very slight, pleasant odor.
Passive behavior Sunflower seeds are sensitive to unpleasant and/or pungent odors.

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RF Contamination

Active behavior The high oil content of the goods frequently causes dark fat stains to appear on the bags, which must therefore be kept from coming into contact with goods sensitive to contamination, such as baled goods, tea chests, marble etc..

Sunflower seeds in bags must not be stowed together with fibers or fibrous materials, either, since oil-impregnated fibers accelerate self-heating processes.

Sunflower seeds often also contain a high proportion of fine dust or sand.
Passive behavior Sunflower seeds are sensitive to dirt, fats and oils. The holds or containers must accordingly be clean and in a thoroughly hygienic condition before loading.

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RF Mechanical influences

Point loads applied for example by hooks may result in damage (tears) to the bags and thus to losses of volume. Plate or bag hooks, which, due to their shape, distribute the load and reduce the risk of damage, should thus be used.

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RF Toxicity / Hazards to health

Respiration may cause life-threatening CO2 concentrations (TLV: 0.49 vol.%) or O2 shortages in the hold/container. Therefore, before anybody enters the hold, it must be ventilated and a gas measurement carried out.

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RF Shrinkage/Shortage

Torn bags may lead to slight losses in volume.

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RF Insect infestation / Diseases

Typical pests of oil-bearing seeds/fruits are, for example, merchant grain beetles, peanut weevils, sawtoothed grain beetles, flour beetles, meal moths, dried fruit moths and mites, which may cause depreciation and weight losses.

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