Global network combats food contamination
As much as 25% of the world's agricultural production today becomes contaminated resulting in risks to human health and to a loss of crops. The main culprits are toxins and particularly those of the poisonous mycotoxin family, which can be a potential threat to both humans and animals.
The European Union (EU)-funded MycoRed research project, which started in 2009, set out to develop a range of production and handling methods which will reduce both pre- and post-harvest contamination in the feed and food chains.
The project has brought together 25 partners from over 17 countries to harness global expertise in this field and search for common strategies to reduce the presence of mycotoxins in the production of cereal foods.
Mycotoxins are dangerous, invasive and very persistent. They can induce carcinogenic effects provoking cell destruction (cytotoxic) and triggering hereditary deformations or immunity effects. The impact on human health is felt most acutely in Africa, parts of Asia and Latin America.
With the project’s support a strategic network or Global Cooperation System has been set up establishing alliances with international organisations, major research institutions in the US, Australia, China, Japan and Malaysia.
The overriding strategy of the project team has been to identify the critical points in the food chain and define the procedures to avoid these situations – from the pre-harvest stage right up to marketing and including storage.
Specific technologies have to be integrated all along the food/feed chain with respect to wheat, maize, grape, nuts and dried fruits. Preventing the toxins from entering the food and feed system also requires a systematic effort from farmers to food processers.
The project covers issues ranging from the optimisation of plant resistance and fungicide use, to novel post-harvest and storage practices and the design and application of new food processing technologies.
Through the MycoRed network new pre- and post-harvest strategies for meeting required safety specifications have been developed. In addition, the cost of analytical/molecular solutions at the laboratory level has been reduced, allowing their more widespread use.
An important aspect of the work is generating and disseminating information and developing education strategies to help reduce contamination risks worldwide.
“The advanced knowledge on mycotoxins generated by the project will play a key role in improving food safety across the world,” says project coordinator Professor Antonio F. Logrieco (Institute of Sciences of Food Production, National Research Council, Italy). “The project is still on-going but has made excellent progress, fully achieving its objectives to date,” concludes Logrieco.