Managing the Unknown? Mycotoxin Risk Assessment in Feed Production

Traders and producers of raw materials and others in the feed industry now have a wide array of options and solutions at their disposal to measure mycotoxin contamination and assess the accompanying risk. How do they determine the methods that best fit their needs?

For decades, taking samples and sending them to an analytical service provider was the chief – in some cases, only – method for determining the presence of mycotoxins. The advent of on-site rapid tests has disrupted this model, becoming widely available at less cost and greater simplicity and ease-of-use. The frequency and volume of testing, the business needs determining the acceptable time-to-result, and the degree of need for accredited results are all criteria to consider. These and other factors that influence testing decisions are broken down below.

On-site testing vs. analytical service

The first step in finding the right testing solution is to decide whether to conduct the test yourself on-site (e.g. in the field or at the storage or production facility), or to send the samples to an analytical service laboratory. This decision depends on three main considerations:

1) Required testing throughput

For frequent testing (high throughput), it might be worthwhile to conduct on-site tests, since costs are generally lower than those of analytical service labs. If you only perform occasional testing or have low throughput, sending your samples to a lab could be more convenient.

2) Acceptable time-to-result

On-site rapid tests will deliver results within a couple of minutes to an hour, depending on the technology being applied. This makes them a useful tool when decisions have to be made in a short amount of time, as in when deciding whether to accept a truck delivery. From start to finish, external analytical service results can take anywhere from a couple of days to a week.

3) Sensitivity

On-site testing can be categorized as a screening tool in that it quickly assesses the concentration of one analyte per test. Reference methods available at an analytical service laboratory are much more robust and allow testing at lower toxin levels for a larger number of analytes.

Rapid tests

The two most popular on-site methods are strip tests (LFDs, or lateral flow devices) and ELISA (enzyme- linked immunosorbent assay) tests. Strip tests are designed to show results as soon as possible, though they can process no more than two samples at a time. They are therefore often used at reception points in the supply chain of agricultural raw commodities. ELISA kits can test up to 44 samples simultaneously. In general, ELISA might be the better option when six or more samples are under analysis, lowering total testing time and cost per sample.

Figure 1: On-site testing methods

Analytical service testing

Analytical service labs have their own range of services and technologies from which customers can choose. In addition to classic ELISA, reference methods such as HPLC (high performance liquid chromatography) and LC-MS/MS (liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry) are on offer.
There are several key differences between these three methods. Compared to ELISA, HPLC and LC-MS/MS are highly sensitive and can target multiple analytes, with the latter able to analyze many more toxins simultaneously. The costs for HPLC and LC-MS/MS are correspondingly higher.

Figure 2: Analytical service testing methods

Raw materials vs. finished feed

Constant monitoring of the input of a finished feed production line is imperative for producers looking to manage mycotoxin risk. Applying rapid tests to screen incoming raw material used in feed production is a common practice nowadays. Protocols for rapid test methods are available for most commodities. Catching materials contaminated by mycotoxins before they enter the supply chain can help prevent more costly problems later on.
Finished feed, which is comprised of various different materials, demonstrates greater complexity in terms of testing. Depending on the amount of feed that requires monitoring, producers can apply rapid tests or send samples to analytical service labs. For smaller feed producers and for producers who frequently have to change the composition of their feed, results can be more conveniently achieved using an analytical service. For larger producers of feed who do not often have to change their formulation, it is possible to create a customized protocol for rapid tests. To reliably test finished feed with rapid tests, it is recommended to carry out a validation (customized protocol) tailored to your specific feed formulation. It is important to keep in mind that feed composition often varies with market price, season and use.


The growing popularity of rapid tests for mycotoxins creates more choice for millers and farmers. On-site testing methods offer a number of advantages, namely speed, cost and ease-of-use. The reference methods available from an analytical service laboratory will provide greater precision for a larger number of analytes, delivering a more comprehensive picture of the degree of contamination, albeit at higher cost. Rapid tests are a good option for less complex commodities. For finished feed, an analytical service or rapid methods (provided they are carefully validated) may be used. For an effective mycotoxin detection program, feed producers should consider a combination of tools that best fit their requirements.

At the same time, they should not let the increasing array of options and choices distract them from this simple principle: you can’t manage what you don’t measure.

This article was published in our Spot On magazine

Other interesting topic In this issue:

  • 2017 BIOMIN Mycotoxin Survey Results

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