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Safe Food and Feed through an Integrated ToolBox for Mycotoxin Management

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - MyToolBox (Safe Food and Feed through an Integrated ToolBox for Mycotoxin Management)

Reporting period: 2019-03-01 to 2020-02-29

It is estimated that the total costs of losses due to mycotoxin contamination as a result of reduced yields, crop losses, increased costs for inspection and analyses, among others, might easily reach billions of Euros annually. It is of no surprise that mycotoxin contamination in numerous crops are of major concern for stakeholders all along the food and feed chain. Reducing losses due to mycotoxin contamination means increasing the volume of crops available for food and feed. Existing methods of forecasting and detection of mycotoxins in food and feed are being challenged, especially by global warming and extreme weather events that are shaking up the entire global mycotoxin-map. The MyToolBox project therefore developed a series of integrated measures to reduce losses due to mycotoxin contamination, addressing specifically the most prevalent Fusarium mycotoxins in wheat, oats, maize and feed, ochratoxin A in wheat, and aflatoxins in maize, peanuts and dried figs. Biofuel production was also considered as safe use options of mycotoxin-contaminated batches.
Reduction strategies for farmers, i.e. in the field (pre-harvest), were tested for their efficacy: In field- and glasshouse experiments biopesticides and biofumigation techniques were tested for wheat and oats were tested in the UK and Norway; resistance of maize cultivars against Aspergillus flavus infection were tested in fields in Italy and Serbia; and an atoxigenic Aspergillus flavus strain was isolated and tested in fields in Serbia. These strategies for mycotoxin reduction in maize grown in Southern Europe showed very promising results: Using resistant plant cultivars resulted in up to 98% reduction of aflatoxin B1 at normal yields, while the use of an atoxigenic strain showed aflatoxin B1 reductions of up to 73%. Biocontrol strategies for wheat and oats in the UK and Norway were optimised. These efforts were complemented by developing European models that predict DON contamination in wheat, and fumonisins and aflatoxin contamination in maize, up to 4 days in advance. For biofuel production recombinant enzymes were added to bioethanol production: FB1 and ZEN could be simultaneously degraded up to 99% and 89%, respectively, in lab-scale tests. Formation of the degradation products hydrolyzed FB1 and hydrolyzed ZEN confirmed the biotransformation.
Catering to silo managers’ needs, sensors were developed to predict potential fungal growth – and thus mycotoxin contamination – in wheat and maize stored in European silos. Their functionality and underlying algorithms were tested and improved in pilot-scale silos at BARILLA. By including CO2 as an early-warning parameter, ZEN contamination in wheat and AFB1 contamination in maize could be forecasted 3-5 days earlier than using only temperature-sensitive sensors. These efforts were complemented by developing similar prediction models for peanuts stored in large scale silos in China.
Evaluating milling and baking techniques provided encouraging results for food producers and regulators: Different sorting, milling and micronization techniques were studied and combined to reduce DON contamination in the final product. The optimum balance of low DON at high fibre content was achieved by using medium-sized bran fraction combined with hammer milling and sieving sifter, resulting in a final product in which DON levels are well below the maximum limits and total dietary fibre is signifcantly higher than in standard wholewheat products. DON transformation during baking was assessed by using a C12/C13 labelling LC-HRMS metabolomics approach, pioneering a full mass balance of DON degradation during thermal processing : DON degraded by 6% in crackers, 5% in biscuits and 2% in bread, isoDON (1.3–3.9%) being the major degradation product. In vitro translation experiments indicate isoDON being less toxic than DON.
Within MyToolBox we also developed a novel sorting system for dried figs based on a combination of optical sorting technologies and algorithms. The prototype was demonstrated to end users in October 2019, and achieved an increased accuracy of up to 80 % under UV light.
Overall, the MyToolBox e-platform was launched officially on February 28, 2020: Besides including the real-time forecasting of mycotoxins in fields and silos, available information such as Good Agricultural Practices, sampling schemes, scenarios for cropping seasons, regulations, etc. were analysed, combined and transformed into easy-to-understand text to ensure that end-users all along the food and feed chain find suitable information – informed and tested particularly by focus-group meetings with potential end-users held in the Netherlands, UK, Serbia, Italy, Norway and China.
To date, appropriate biocontrol agents to reduce aflatoxin contamination in maize are not available for use in South-East Europe. Application of the isolated and filed Aspergillus strain provides a novel adaptation within the EU of proven technology developed in the US and Africa. Our case studies revealed that, e.g. Serbia could increase its maize production at AFB1 levels <5 µg/kg by approximately 16% per year, if 80% of Serbian farmers used atoxigenic Aspergillus strains (highest impact in years of high mycotoxin risk). They also underpin the high relevance of available forecasting models and Decision Support Systems to determine the regions with high probability of high mycotoxin concentrations and advice prior to implementing any control measures. In this context, the MyToolBox e-platform will also allow proactive early intervention, avoiding potential losses.
Another innovation lies in the MyToolBox silo monitoring system: Current practice in silo management is to measure temperature (T) and relative humidity (RH) (periodically or remotely). A sensor measuring CO2, T and RH simultaneously is highly novel and will provide silo managers with access to accurate information for making informed decisions immediately.
To increase fractions of reduced mycotoxin contamination at maximum fibre content during milling, the most efficient combination of milling techniques has been identified and tested. Besides a low DON content and a more than 30% higher fibre content, the selected fraction showed also lower content of commonly found pesticide residues and heavy metals, and increased levels of antioxidants. Efficient biofuel and protein rich DDGS (distillers dried grains with solubles) production can be an attractive safe use option for otherwise discarded contaminated cereal batches. Besides testing the efficacy in a lab-scale environment, the project achieved great insights into the use of recombinant enzymes in an industrial setting.
Unlike previous projects and standards, the MyToolBox project applied a fully integrated multi-actor approach with high end user involvement to tackle mycotoxins along the food and feed chain. The impacts of integrated mycotoxin management results in reduced losses along the food chain, particularly in high-risk years. By providing traceable information along the supply chain using mainstream ICT technology MyToolBox reached out to improve health, safety and wellbeing of consumers.
Moreover, MyToolBox tested the efficacy of feed additives under local conditions in China acc. to EC Regulation No 429/2008 - pioneering a common scientific (and ethical) base for future feeding trials to test detoxifiers developed in the EU and China.
The MyToolBox approach