Ochratoxin A (OTA) is one of the most abundant toxins that contaminates food and is deemed to be a 'health risk' by experts. OTA suppresses the immune system and can even cause various forms of cancer in both humans and animals. The EU-funded project OTASENS stemmed from the need to closely check and analyse food, beverages and feed through efficient, reliable and rapid analytical methods. The project team developed a quick, cheap and environmentally friendly pre-industrial photo-sensor device for the rapid detection of toxins such as OTA in wine, beer and cereals.
“The OTASENS device can perform quick and reliable analyses of food, beverages and feed at little cost. As the device is portable, analyses can be carried out in canteens, breweries and farms, providing effective food quality control,” says project representative, Dr Roberto Arrigoni from Automation srl in Italy.
The OTASENS system has several advantages over current detection systems. Firstly, small amounts of the solvents and chemicals are used which, once the system is commercialised, would reduce disposal costs and thus be kinder to the environment.
In addition, a complete system would cost less than €2000 to install and according to Arrigoni: “depending on the market acceptance and volume of sales different options could be offered commercially at lower costs.”
As it is simple to use and weighs less than 1kg, the OTASENS system does not require expert personnel to carry out the actual analysis meaning it can essentially be used by the layperson. The device can also be connected to a laptop at home.
During the testing phase of the project, the system analysed several types of food and feed including wine, beer and cereals. Results obtained were compared with those using traditional analytical methods. And according to experts involved in the project review, the achieved scientific results were excellent with promising economic potential, details of which have yet to be presented. Crucially, tests have also shown that the analysis time has been reduced by 50% when compared to traditional techniques.
Despite the promising results, “further testing would be necessary before proceeding with a commercial launch of the technology,” concludes Arrigoni.
With over €1 million in EU-funding under the Seventh Research Framework Programme (FP7), OTASENS was coordinated by Italian laboratory, Automation srl and had production and research partners in Croatia, Germany, Italy, Norway and Portugal.