Molds are responsible for a group of contaminants that have been known for a long time yet are extremely undesirable: mycotoxins. Some of them are known to be highly carcinogenic.
Equipped with high toxicity at times, the maximum permitted levels are extremely low. Due to this and the ever-increasing variety, mycotoxins are basically permanent residents on the European rapid alert system for food and feed safety, as well as the focus of contaminant monitoring for any responsible producer or importer.
Since the molds are living cultures that first originate from individual spores, when the cultures grow, nests are formed that produce mycotoxins in the product randomly. The challenges for the analysis begin with the sampling, because a representative result has to be determined for a specific lot. That’s why a very large sample is often taken in the first step, up to 30 kg, although the initial weight for the analysis can be less than 10 grams. Delivering reproduceable results for this kind of analysis is a challenge and an art.
It used to be that only ochratoxin A, aflatoxins, and perhaps deoxynivalenol (DON) would be checked, but nowadays the spectrum looks a lot more colorful. One example is the “Alternaria” toxins , which are likely to be found in cereals or soy. The GBA Group pays close attention to these toxins, as well as other toxic substances that occur in the product heterogenously.
Naturally occurring contaminants such as mycotoxins and pyrrolizidine alkaloids, environmental contaminants such as PAHs or dioxins and process contaminants like acrylamide, 3-MCPD and petroleum-derived hydrocarbons all pose great challenges to the food industry. Companies have to observe a great abundance of legal regulations as well as the general rule of minimization in cases of substances that are not yet specifically regulated.