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Rapid screening for the presence of mycotoxins in wheat products

Image: Wheat is susceptible to fungal colonization, which can cause the contamination of grains with mycotoxins.
Wheat is susceptible to fungal colonization, which can cause the contamination of grains with mycotoxins.
Jun 13 2019

A new rapid method to detect two types of mycotoxins in wheat products will facilitate official controls to ensure that these products are safe for human consumption.

One hundred nine kilogrammes of wheat. That is what each European consumes on average every year.

Wheat is one of the major staple foodstuffs. It is the most consumed cereal worldwide. Europeans are among the highest per-capita consumers. It is part of our daily food habits. We find wheat in bread, pasta, breakfast cereals, biscuits, cakes, etc.

However, wheat and cereals are generally susceptible to fungal colonization, both in the field and during storage. This can cause the contamination of grains with mycotoxins.

Mycotoxins are natural toxins produced by certain moulds that can end up in our food. They can be harmful for both humans and animals. Mycotoxins can cause food poisoning or even cancer.

At least 60% of the food produced in the world originates from cereal crops. The problem of mycotoxins is therefore of considerable importance requiring monitoring to assess the compliance with legislative maximum limits.

Mainly two types of mycotoxins can be present in wheat products:

  • Deoxynivalenol (DON) – the most common mycotoxin contaminant in wheat, maize, barley, oats and rye, stemming from phytopathogenic Fusarium species. Wheat bran is the part of the grain with the highest concentration of DON;
  • Ochratoxin A (OTA) – produced by several species of the genera Aspergillus and Penicillium, often found in various cereals.

Deoxynivalenol can cause vomiting, reduced weight gain, diarrhea, skin lesions, growth depression and immunosuppression to both humans and animals.

Ochratoxin A has been classified as a possible human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

"This is the reason why legal limits have been set for the presence of both mycotoxins in cereal-based food products to protect consumers in the European Union", explains JRC scientist Christoph von Holst.

EU control laboratories check regularly food for the presence of these substances. But the applied methods are time-consuming and expensive.

"We need to further improve the efficiency of this monitoring. There is a need for rapid detection methods", Christoph explains.

This is the reason why scientists of the JRC and the CNR-National Council of Italy developed a rapid method to detect the mycotoxins DON in wheat bran and OTA in durum wheat.

This will facilitate official controls in order to ensure that wheat products are safe for human consumption.

The analytical method based on infrared spectroscopy allows rapid analysis of wheat samples to detect DON and OTA.

"This alternative technique is fast, not expensive and easy to use. It can further improve the efficiency of the control activities", concludes Christoph.

Further information

Report: Fourier transform near-infrared and mid-infrared spectroscopy as efficient tools for rapid screening of deoxynivalenol contamination in wheat bran
Report: Rapid screening of ochratoxin A in wheat by Infrared Spectroscopy