What Kind of Mycotoxin Tester Are You? 4 Types of Testers and What They Expect from a Rapid Solution

Economic losses, risks to the health of humans and animals, increasingly complex regulatory frameworks: the reasons that producers of grain, food and animal feed need to test for mycotoxins are manifold. Romer Labs communications manager Joshua Davis and key account manager Ervin Tanyi look at a few common situations in which rapid tests can help.

Mycotoxins: a growing threat

The economic damage that can be attributed to mycotoxins is growing: the FAO estimates that 25% of global agricultural production is contaminated with mycotoxins. These toxic compounds can trigger health problems in both humans and animals, ranging from cancer to diseases of the liver, kidney, nervous system, hormonal system, and much more. Some mycotoxins are even known to suppress the immune system. 
As our knowledge about mycotoxins increases, so do regulatory restrictions on them in raw materials, animal feed and food. These restrictions have in turn unleashed a multitude of strategies and products designed to detect mycotoxins and prevent the damage they cause to health and business. Of the tools at our disposal, rapid mycotoxin detection solutions based on lateral flow device (LFD) technology have proven themselves to be versatile and robust enough to be used on-site and accurate enough, in many cases, to supplant the need for laboratory methods.
For years now, we have worked with grain and feed producers and traders throughout the world, helping them to implement mycotoxin detection tools at their raw material reception points, grain silos, feed mills and other locations where they need mycotoxin results that are both fast and accurate. In this article, we discuss four different types of testers who need rapid testing solutions for related but different reasons. It’s our hope that those of you who read this and recognize yourselves in one of these four roles might learn a bit about how rapid testing solutions can help you in your mycotoxin detection program.

#1 The grain wrangler: incoming raw materials

One of the most significant critical testing points within the food chain is raw material reception; we like to think of those playing this crucial role as “grain wranglers.” The grain wrangler decides whether to accept, reject or otherwise segregate ingredients, most often raw grains, based on their levels of mycotoxin contamination. Grain wranglers need testing methods that fulfill very specific, local requirements.
For the grain wrangler, time-to-result is of critical importance, as everyone in the supply chain is waiting for his or her decision. Within minutes, truck drivers or rail operators need to know whether they can unload their shipments and if so, where they should be un-loaded. Those further down the supply line, such as those waiting to store or further process the materials, are likewise relying on the grain wrangler to make a quick and accurate decision. 
The testing method should also be simple, so grain wranglers can easily learn and perform with confidence. This simplicity is essential, as they already have their hands full with other parameters that need measuring: moisture, cleanliness, and protein content are just a few others aside from mycotoxins that they need to measure within a short period of time. 
Raw material reception also demands a robust design- from the tests and equipment. Grain reception and the grinding that goes on there generates far more dust compared to a standard laboratory environment. Furthermore, the ambient temperature can vary widely, depending on weather conditions when grain is harvested. Testing equipment needs to be correspondingly resistant to these harsh conditions. 
Confronted with all these challenges, the grain wrangler needs a convenient way to manage results. It used to be enough to read results from test strips or a reader display and record it manually. These days, connectivity is a must: results must be easily transferrable to computer systems, including LIMS and ERP platforms.

#2 The artisan tester: QC for highly refined products

Like grain wranglers, those carrying out quality control for highly refined products such as citric acid, starch, high fructose corn syrup and other biodegradable ingredients of natural origin need reliable and fast solutions to test for mycotoxins. 
Yet their initial situation couldn’t be more different: they typically don’t have the time pressure that comes with trucks waiting to unload their goods at reception points, and often have the benefit of a laboratory environment and trained staff. Chiefly concerned with the exacting demands of ingredient production, they have an eye for precision; we call them “artisan testers.”
Although they may have access to analytical methods such as HPLC or mass spectrometry, artisan testers often prefer a mycotoxin rapid test for its simplicity and its flexibility. Increasing testing volume with rapid test kits frees up more complex equipment and labor time for other necessary lab work.

#3 The mycotoxin cop: compliance with regulations and thresholds

Both the grain wrangler and the artisan tester typically ply their trade for a business trading raw materials or producing goods out of those raw materials. Those playing our third role typically aren’t paying attention to the bottom line of a business; they’re making sure regulations are being followed as they should be. Often employed by certification companies or regulatory agencies, their job is the enforcement of mycotoxin thresholds and the certification of shipments by train or truck. We like to call those playing this essential role “mycotoxin cops.”
Mycotoxin cops are almost always working far from a traditional lab environment; if anything, their lab is limited to what they can fit in the trunk of their car. They service trains bound to remote locations to ensure compliance with regulations. Often working far from centers of commerce, internet connection is a luxury not always available to them. They often lack the grinding equipment available to the grain wrangler and have to rely on coffee grinders to get their test samples.
While complex lab equipment is not an option for the mycotoxin cop, not just any rapid test solution will do. Aside from the basic requirements of sensitivity, accuracy and usability, test strips and readers must be able to maintain quality performance despite always being on the move. Mobility is a chief concern, with special equipment such as power adaptors and batteries enabling mycotoxin cops to go where they are most needed. 

#4 The animal guardian: mycotoxin risk management program

For those playing this last rapid test role under discussion, the health of the animals in their care is paramount. “Animal guardians” ensure that the feed their animals receive is wholesome and within acceptable regulatory thresholds for mycotoxin concentration. Yet regulations are only part of the story; recommendations from veterinarians can often result in thresholds far stricter than official ones.
The animal guardian knows that to manage mycotoxin risk in feed, he or she first has to measure that risk. The mycotoxin concentration of a specific lot of feed or feed ingredients will give useful information about the species of animal for which it can be used—or whether it can be used at all. In our experience, the animal guardian can’t always wait for mycotoxin results to come in before deciding how to use a lot or whether- a feed additive, such as a mycotoxin deactivator, is indicated. Rapid tests help the animal guardian keep livestock safe from the harmful effects of mycotoxins while ensuring that the nutritional needs of livestock are met in a timely fashion.

Conclusion: A universal need for speed

(and sensitivity and usability and precision)

Grain wrangler, artisan tester, mycotoxin cop, animal guardian: all of these kinds of mycotoxin hunters share a few basic expectations of a mycotoxin rapid testing solution.

Speed. Testers have no time to lose. Maybe you’re the grain wrangler with trucks waiting for you to tell them whether or where to unload, or maybe you’re the freelancer mycotoxin cop who has to test, certify (or not) and rush to the next location. All the same, you need a system that puts the “rapid” in rapid testing.

Sensitivity. All testers need a system that can deliver results down to the low levels of concentration demanded by regulators. Some testers may be dealing with internal thresholds more stringent than those of regulators. If this describes you, then you’ll need to make sure that any system you’re considering has an LOD that meets your needs and is validated for the matrix or matrices you need to test.

Usability. What makes a rapid test system user-friendly? Clients keep mentioning one thing that makes a kit usable: a streamlined workflow. When you consider the needs of, say, the animal guardian who has to juggle several different kinds of tasks, a workflow with as few steps as possible is a must. We would only add that the workflow is only part of the story: a large and intuitively built user interface on the reader also goes a long way to making life easier for all testers. 

Precision. For obvious reasons, no one in any of these roles can accept a rapid test system that delivers unreliable results. For example, the highly specialized work that goes into the production of refined materials like DDGS can’t afford to be soured by unacceptable levels of mycotoxins.

Ultimately, regardless of the role we might play in mycotoxin detection, we are guided by one imperative: keeping our food and feed within acceptable levels. Rapid mycotoxin testing solutions will continue to be indispensable tools in fulfilling this mission.  

This article was published in Spot On #13

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