Mycotoxins, produced by fungal mold, currently contaminates a quarter of the world’s agriculture produce, making it a potential growing threat to people and animals, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Mycotoxins ranks the third most important threat after bacteria and pesticides, which is why maximum tolerance levels permitted in food and feedstuff are becoming crucial for food and feed producers. Meeting these requirements is possible with the right processes in place. Academic studies within the European project MycoKey and practical experience confirm that an effective means to significantly reduce mycotoxin levels is via cleaning and optical sorting processes.
A recent United Nations (UN) report confirmed the impact of climate change on food safety and security, it is evident that extreme environmental conditions such as drought and rising temperatures have triggered an upsurge in toxic crops.Previously more prevalent in tropical and sub-tropical regions, mycotoxin contamination is now on the rise in temperate regions — meaning it will increasingly become a food safety issue for Europe even if global temperatures may be limited to an increase of only 2-degrees Celsius, which UNEP deems unlikely. Climate change is increasing the prevalence of aflatoxin, one of the most poisonous mycotoxins.
Mycotoxin levels in grain are a frequent reason to reject raw material for food and feed processing. Scarcity of raw materials, on the other hand, requires the industry to look for new solutions along the value chain.
According to Bühler, knowing that just a few highly mycotoxin-contaminated kernels may make an entire grain lot unsafe for further use, it’s essential to implement post-harvest measures that reduce mycotoxin levels to ensure safe products, while ensuring economical yields and reducing losses. The experts from the European Horizon2020 project, MycoKey, which was initiated in mid-2016 aims. The 6.4-million-euro project has partners from 32 organizations from a total of 14 countries in Europe, Asia and Africa. MycoKey, has run multiple, large-scale field tests to collect valuable data on the performance of grain cleaning solutions.
The case for reducing levels of mycotoxins of any kind is clear considering the implications on consumer and animal health as well as to the commercial success of milling companies. Bühler said it is focused on to achieve commercially viable yields — regardless of incoming product quality. For example, in a specific case the company has helped an Italian corn producer to recover 70% to 80% of contaminated maize and boost it from biomass to feed grade quality.