Find the Right Mycotoxin Testing Tool

Feed millers and livestock producers have more choice than in the past when it comes to testing for the presence of mycotoxins in commodity raw materials and finished feed. Here’s how to select the appropriate method for your situation.

For decades, taking samples and sending them to an analytical service provider has been the main method for determining the presence of mycotoxins. In recent years on-site rapid test methods have become widely available, offering simplicity and ease-of- use to quickly detect mycotoxins on site. With more options to choose from, finding the right tool has gained importance. 

How do you test for mycotoxins?

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 production facility), or send the samples to an analytical service  laboratory. That decision depends on three main considerations:

1. Required testing throughput

For high volume or frequent testing (high throughput), it might be worth conducting on-site tests, since costs are generally low. If you only perform occasional testing or have low throughput, sending your samples to an analytical service lab could be more convenient.

2. Acceptable time to results

On-site rapid tests will deliver results within an hour. This makes rapid tests a useful tool when decision time is short, e.g. when deciding whether to accept a truck delivery. From start to finish, analytical service results take on average one week.

3. Quality of results

On-site testing can be categorized as a screening tool in that it provides a quick indication as to the presence of one analyte per test. Reference methods available at an analytical service laboratory are much more robust, offering greater reliability on a larger number of analytes.

Rapid tests

The two most popular on-site methods are strip tests and ELISA tests. The key differences are illustrated in Figure 1. Strip tests are designed to give results as soon as possible, though they can only process two samples at a time. They are therefore widely used at reception points of the supply chain of agricultural raw commodities. ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) test kits can test up to 44 samples simultaneously. In general, ELISA is the better option when you have 6 or more samples: the price difference is quickly recuperated due to the need to buy fewer kits and it saves time.

On-site testing methods
Figure 1. On-site testing methods

Analytical service testing

When sending samples to an analytical service lab you have to decide which technology should be used. In addition to classic ELISA, reference methods like HPLC (high performance liquid chromatography) and LC-MS/MS (liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry) can be chosen. The key differences are illustrated in Figure 2. Reference methods analyze your sample for multiple toxins in one go. For example, the LC-MS/MS multi-mycotoxin method offered by Romer Labs is capable of analyzing up to 18 toxins at a time.

Analytical service testing methods
Figure 2. Analytical service testing methods
Tips for Sampling

Raw materials vs. finished feed

We recommend to constantly monitor the input and output of a finished feed production line. This means applying rapid tests to screen incoming raw material used in feed production. Most commodities have protocols for rapid test methods. Catching mycotoxin contaminated materials before they enter the supply chain can help prevent more costly problems later on.

Finished feed, being made up of various different materials, demonstrates greater complexity in terms of testing. Depending on the amount of feed that requires monitoring you can apply rapid tests or send samples to analytical service labs. If you have only a small amount of feed to test or your feed composition changes frequently, you will have more convenient, reliable results using an analytical service. For large amounts of feed with an unchanged formula it might be worth to create a customized protocol for rapid tests. Bear in mind that the feed composition often varies with market price, season and use. To reliably apply rapid tests to finished feed, it is recommended to have a validation (customized protocol) tailored to your specific feed formulation.

Conclusion

The growing popularity of rapid tests for mycotoxins creates more choice for millers and farmers. There are a number of factors to consider when choosing the right mycotoxin detection tool. 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 fuller picture of the contamination situation. Rapid tests are a good option for raw commodity screening. For finished feed, an analytical service or validated rapid test may be used. For an effective mycotoxin detection program, it may be worth considering a combination of tactics that best fit your requirements.

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