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  • What's the Best Way to Detect Mycotoxins in Food?

What's the Best Way to Detect Mycotoxins in Food?

May 31 2020

Mycotoxins are toxins that are produced by certain moulds or fungi. They are naturally occurring, and the moulds can be found on many different types of foodstuffs. There are several hundred different mycotoxins that have been identified, but only a small number present a cause for concern when it comes to human and animal life.

A recent review paper published in the journal foods discusses the current preferred ways test for mycotoxins and the importance of sample preparation in the analysis of mycotoxins. The paper - Advances in Analysis and Detection of Major Mycotoxins in Foods – reports on work carried out by scientists at the University of the Peloponnese in Athens, Greece. Chromatography is considered the primary technique for the analysis of the mycotoxins, so let us find out a little more about mycotoxins.

Mycotoxins – not very fungi

Mycotoxins are naturally occurring and it is impossible to be completely sure of their removal from the food chain. So, the aim of most regulations is to ensure that human or animal exposure is as low as possible. The controls aim to reduce the concentration of mycotoxins in the food chain. They can appear at any stage in the food chain, from the plant or cereal itself, or because of poor storage and distribution.

Mycotoxins can cause a severe illness shortly after consumption of tainted food, an acute effect, or they can have long-term effects on health causing cancer and immune deficiency. Aflatoxins are possibly the most toxic mycotoxin we need to worry about – they are thought to cause cancer and are associated with problems of the digestive and reproductive systems. Other mycotoxins that can cause harm to humans and animals include patulin, fumonisins and ochratoxin A. The main producers of mycotoxins are the fungi of the genera of Aspergillus, Fusarium, Penicillium, Claviceps and Alternaria.

Chromatography is the gold standard in mycotoxin analysis

Mycotoxins can be found in very low concentration and so it is important that any method used to analyse for them is reliable and sensitive. The process starts with the isolation, separation and extraction of the toxins from the food sample. The authors report that although the QuEChERS method was developed for pesticide analysis – its principles have been shown to work well for mycotoxins too. Solid phase extraction is another technique that can be used to prepare a mycotoxin sample for analysis.

After preparation, the gold standard for mycotoxin analysis is liquid chromatography – tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS). This offers high sensitivity, accuracy and reliability. The use of highly sensitive chromatography techniques to detect compounds in complex samples is the topic of the article, The Detection and Quantification of Dicamba and Acid Herbicides in Agricultural Samples.

Another example of chromatography helping to keep our world a safe place.


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