BACKGROUND

img04Mycotoxins are contaminants produced by fungi that infest food crops and processed foods. These toxins enter the food chain via infected crops that are either directly consumed by humans or indirectly ingested as a consequence of crops as an animal feed ingredient. Mycotoxins have been linked to human oesophageal cancer, equine leukoencephalomalacia, toxic feed syndrome in poultry, and pulmonary edema in pigs. In recent years, research on cumulative risks, exposure, and long-term effects has raised awareness for the control of such health risks and the sale and use of foods containing mycotoxin is under strict regulatory controls. As a result, grain and other foodstuff buyers increasingly demand more rigorous and timely food safety testing.

Indeed, with an estimated 25% to 50%2 of the world’s food crops affected by mycotoxins, the health impacts and economic cost are considerable. Indeed, over the past decade, a number of important outbreaks of mycotoxicoses have been reported worldwide. In 2004, 125 people died following a major outbreak in the eastern and central provinces of Kenya. Smaller outbreaks occurred in 2005 and again in 2006 in Kenya, with another 53 fatalities. In 2005, more than 75 dogs died in the United States after consuming pet food contaminated with mycotoxins, and hundreds more experienced severe liver problems associated with the intoxication. Such outbreaks emphasise the need for routine testing of staple foods and feeds for mycotoxins.

Detection and control of the fungi is a continuous concern since fungi can become established and remain with the commodity anywhere along the production, storage, transportation and processing chain.

Failure to achieve a satisfactory mycotoxin detection may lead to unacceptable consignments being accepted or satisfactory batches being unnecessarily rejected. However, quantitative and rapid analysis of mycotoxins is difficult with current analytical methods being costly, time-consuming, and not suited for application in the field.