Mycotoxins are naturally occurring, highly toxic substances, produced by filamentous soil-borne fungi that can infect tree grown crops including nuts and fruits. Products exposed to certain environmental conditions during harvest, storage, or transport, are particularly vulnerable to mycotoxin contamination. For food processors and traders, the results of contaminant testing are key to market share and profitability. Food products that meet the most stringent purity standards command higher prices and fulfill the toughest trade requirements, while items that fall short may be rejected from the most lucrative markets.
The complexity of standards and regulations for mycotoxins, such as aflatoxin and ochratoxin A, vary from country to country. Aflatoxin regulations in one of the most potentially profitable markets, the European Union, can be as low as 2 parts per billion (ppb) - considerably lower than the 20 ppb action level set by the U.S. FDA, which poses a major challenge for exporters. Reports from the EU’s Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed show that in the three-month period between July and September of 2018, aflatoxin levels in more than 59 incoming tree nut shipments exceeded legal limits, and two shipments of pistachios from the US were rejected by the Netherlands for ochratoxin A contamination in excess of 35 ppb and 430 ppb. The consequences of such refusals are prohibitively expensive.
The ability to meet such low maximum limits requires a sampling plan and a test method that satisfies the rigorous criteria of standards organizations and regulatory agencies. Vigilant mycotoxin surveillance has become standard operating procedure - frequent testing is not only cost-effective business insurance, but also an ethical, socially responsible corporate policy that helps protect the health of customers and the livelihoods of industry stakeholders around the globe.