The cold, wet harvest of 2009/10 brought with it, not only handling problems, but increased incidents of vomitoxin, a mycotoxin which is a naturally occurring chemical produced by mold. Vomitoxin will continue to be a thorn in the side of grain handlers into for months to come.
“It’s been an unusual year indeed,” says Paul Pfeiffer, territory manager with Neogen. “In some areas, elevators are lucky to get one out of 10 trucks with grain testing at an acceptable level.”
Aiming to protect human and animal health, test kits are the first line of defense to ensure mycotoxin levels meet regulatory compliance. While some may suggest that a firm cannot test every load — and may recommend testing fewer loads to form a composite of the risk level — in areas when mycotoxins are endemic, this strategy could be detrimental to a facility’s grain quality.
Once mycotoxin-contaminated grain enters the bin, it’s hard to get back out, so it’s in the best interest of small- to medium-sized elevators to increase testing since an incident may be harder for them to manage, explains Patricia Jackson, Vicam’s market development manager.
Better safe than sorry
Why wouldn’t handlers test every load?
“Honestly, some just don’t want to know,” says Stephen Nenonen, sales manager, Romer Labs. “Testing grain should be viewed as more of an insurance policy. Some elevators are required to test depending on who they sell to; others are not. The ones that aren’t required to do it should do it anyway to ensure and preserve their grain quality.”
The last thing any elevator wants is a recall, Nenonen says. Whether you’re exporting or marketing your grain domestically, it’s a “better safe than sorry” scenario.
Wes Shadow, business development manager with Perten Instruments, agrees: “Food Safety will continue to be a huge issue. It’s in the best interest of [elevators] to be able to verify the quality of their grain.”
The USDA, FDA and other international regulatory standards impose specific guidelines for acceptable levels for various mycotoxins. For example, the USDA Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyard Administration’s (GIPSA) acceptable limit for aflatoxin is 20 parts/billion. (For additional sampling information, visit www.gipsa.usda.gov/GIPSA.)
While different environmental conditions breed different mycotoxins, there are occasions where multiple types of toxins may be present. Mycotoxin test kit suppliers have focused their attention on creating products that test for multiple toxins to meet this demand.
“Sometimes it’s less economical for the user to do multiple tests so these one-stop test kits provide the quick and easy solution,” Pfeiffer explains.
In addition to detection and level tracking, rapid process speeds are essentials to efficiency at the scale.
Testing speed offers segregation benefits
Quick test times are the key to keeping trucks flowing smoothly past the scale and the probe during peak times. In an attempt to avoid bottlenecks, some facilities may be hesitant to increase the frequency of evaluation; however, with advancements in testing technology, most kits require only five to 10 minutes to process.
“Our tests are quick enough that results are submitted before [trucks] get off the scale, which allows the operator to direct them to the appropriate pit,” Nenonen says.
Since mycotoxins are not homogenous in their distribution, the best strategy is to test every load at intake. The benefit — regardless of whether or not you have been alerted to a rise of a mycotoxin in your region — is that it will allow you to better manage your quality through segregation. “The accurate [segregation] testing allows protections from loss — both from losing on the grade of the grain and from losing customers,” explains Jackson.