aflatoxin contamination in cropsWhat does a soap opera have to do with diseased crops? It turns out that the company Nestlé has been using one for the last eight years as part of a training program directed at helping West African farmers to reduce aflatoxin contamination in crops. The story featured in the soap opera is about two farmers. One listens to the advice of his wife on using the correct farming practices to prevent mycotoxin contamination in their crops. The other farmer does not listen to his wife. You can guess the results of course. What I found impressive was that through this training program Nestlé has reduced its rejection rate of grains at its factory gates dramatically from 50% to only 2%. That’s a huge difference! It means better income for farmers, less health risks for the local communities, and a reliable grain supply for Nestlé.

Nestlé worked with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and the governments of Ghana and Nigeria to set up the Grains Quality Improvement Project with the goal of improving the quality and safety of grains produced. The trainers adopted different strategies to spread their message. There was classroom training, of course, but farmers were also taken into the fields to visit well-run farms. They were shown the difference between healthy and ruined crops and were taught good agricultural practices. In the evenings, the soap opera reinforced the messages the farmers had received during the training.

 

What are Mycotoxins?

For those unfamiliar with these natural toxins, mycotoxins are a group of toxic metabolites produced by certain fungi. They can cause serious health problems and can even be fatal. Aflatoxins, a particular group of mycotoxins, can be potent carcinogens. Other toxin groups can cause kidney damage, nervous system damage, gangrene, or immune system damage. Hence, when a farmer’s crop is contaminated with mycotoxins, it must be rejected by buyers and becomes worthless. This can result in significant financial losses for local farmers, as was seen in the Nestlé case (link to complete story), plus cause companies like Nestlé to incur additional costs because they have to import grain to supply local factories.

 

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Detection of Mycotoxins

How is mycotoxin contamination detected? Various techniques can be used, including HPLC, LC-MS, GC-MS, ELISA or direct fluorometry. In particular, check out these valuable resources:

You can find numerous downloadable application notes on our Natural Toxins Food Community page (link to webpage).

 

Is mycotoxin analysis of interest to your laboratory? If so, I would like to hear your thoughts and experiences.