Mycotoxin Blog

Five Minutes with Jim Cary—GEAPS Conference Review

Friday, March 01, 2013

This week's GEAPS International Technical Conference in Louisville, Kentucky brought with it countless opportunities to listen and learn—and learn we did. Jim Cary, VICAM's National Sales Manager, took a few minutes to highlight recent happenings in the grain world and the buzz around the coming crop year.


Q: What are people talking about at this year's GEAPS meeting?

Jim: Many of the people here at GEAPS are gearing up for another large corn crop. The grain elevator owners and managers are all talking with growers to see how many acres will be going to corn. They all say that corn acres will be up this coming year due to corn prices being up and demand also being up for US grains.


Q: How is last season's drought affecting grain managers now?

Jim: Following a drought year everyone is relieved to be finished with harvest and looking forward to a new growing season. The hope is that any drought damaged grain would have been rejected prior to storage and therefore would not become an issue in the bin or later when that grain is loaded out on train, truck or barge. Unfortunately, aflatoxin is showing up in some locations where they had been testing during harvest in order to prevent problems. Aflatoxin is challenging because it can be present in just a few kernels in an entire truckload. If those particular kernels are not found during the sampling process, then contaminated grain can unwittingly be accepted into storage or processing. 

One way to help mitigate the complexity of managing mycotoxins is to be sure that testing takes place not only as grain enters the storage facility, but also as it exits and is loaded for shipment. In addition, good sampling practices are critical because they provide the best opportunity for obtaining a representative sample for a lot or load of grain. Grain storage practices also have an significant impact on whether molds will be able to thrive and continue producing toxins during storage. Unfortunately, once aflatoxin is present, it isn't going anywhere soon. Aflatoxin is very heat stable and can withstand some of the most vigorous processing, such as extrusion and cooking in a processing facility.


Q: Does last year's drought pose any risks to the new crop season?

Jim: Yes and no. Some areas are getting quite a bit of snow, and if that moisture can saturate the soil it could help tremendously for planting season and helping the crops get a good head start. The southern US, Texas in particular, looks to finally be recovering from their long term drought in many areas. That will please quite a few farmers who simply could not sustain a crop during the worst of drought problems in that area.


Q: How would you rate this year's GEAPS Annual Conference?

Jim: GEAPS is always an important meeting for us because we can talk face to face with grain elevator managers, merchandisers, and executives that are impacted directly by grain and food quality and safety issues. With the implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) in the US the grain industry is going to become more visible in the food production chain and meetings like GEAPS help to bring everyone together to discuss how to meet the new and always-changing expectations of the global marketplace. People look to GEAPS for this kind of support and they trust the information they find here and they also have some very valuable opportunities to network and learn from those who have been there, done that in this business.


Many thanks to Jim for sharing his insights from this year's GEAPS annual conference. Here's to a fruitful 2013 crop year for all grain growers, elevators, and processors!

Time For Big Ideas & Great Learning Opportunities—GEAPS Exchange 2013

Friday, February 22, 2013


If you're looking to bulk up on your knowledge of grain shipping, storage and safety, this weekend ushers in the best opportunity of the year. The 84th annual Grain Elevator and Processing Society (GEAPS) begins this Saturday in historic Louisville, Kentucky at the Kentucky International Convention Center. The expo begins Sunday afternoon and boasts more than 500 exhibitors featuring grain operations professionals from finance, construction, seed, production, storage to laboratory equipment and service providers.

In addition to daily concurrent learning sessions, GEAPS offers EXPO ED PODS, four "rooms" on the expo floor featuring live demonstrations of moisture meters, grain inspection equipment, moisture meters, dockage testers, in-line grain analyzers, and test kits for GMO's and mycotoxins. PODS sessions will take place during regular Expo Hours and are open to all attendees and offer a closer look at the best technologies available to the grain industry worldwide. Time will be allotted for Q&A following each POD presentation. 

Some of the most exciting events will happen on the Expo Floor during the 12 POD presentations—be sure to check them out and don't miss the POD 3 presentations on Tuesday, February 25.

Don't Miss It

  • Idea Exchange: Sunday, Feb 24, 10:30 a.m. Thirteen of the brightest minds in grain operations will share innovations and inspiration with "What's New" and "Why Don't They..." themes.
  • POD 3: Tuesday, Feb 26, 10:00 a.m.  Sioux City Grain Inspection talks about  Official Grain Inspection for food grains
  • POD 3: Tuesday, Feb 26, 10:30 a.m. VICAM's Lanny Smith will demonstrate Fumo-V™, VICAM's five minute quantitative strip test for fumonisin in grains

If you make it through all the learning and hunger for more, GEAPS offers a post-conference tour of Maker's Mark Distillery, Historic Bardstown and Jim Beam on Wednesday, February 26 at 9:00 a.m. Sign up today by contacting GEAPS for more details and to register for these great opportunities..

Click here for GEAPS Website

Six States Receive FDA Waiver to Allow Blending of Aflatoxin-Contaminated Corn

Monday, October 29, 2012

The FDA has approved six states to receive an exemption from 'no-blending' rules for aflatoxin contaminated corn, bringing some relief to the drought-ridden US corn belt. Iowa received the first approval on September 18, followed by Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma. Each state submitted a written request to FDA detailing their state's crop conditions, aflatoxin levels and relevant data supporting their need for the relaxed rules. Blending corn in order to minimize aflatoxin levels is normally forbidden. With US corn supplies at an 8-year low, blending will allow more of the available corn crop to be utilized as livestock feed and help to mitigate losses and restrain rising feed prices to producers.

The relaxed rule allows sellers to blend aflatoxin contaminated corn with clean/uncontaminated corn or corn with low levels (<20 ppb) of aflatoxin in order to market the corn as feed. To take advantage of the relaxed blending rules, companies must complete the "2012 Compliance Certification Form" issued by their state department of agriculture. Blended corn may only be sold for use as feed for specific classes of livestock including mature poultry, breeding swine, finishing swine over 100 pounds, breeding cattle and finishing (feedlot) cattle according to section 683.100 of the FDA Compliance Policy Guide. Written confirmation is required from each buyer of blended corn stating which class of livestock will consume it as feed.

Summary of FDA rules for blending of aflatoxin-contaminated corn:  

  • Corn contaminated with aflatoxin above 20 ppb may be blended with other corn to 
    the extent that the resulting product is below the appropriate aflatoxin action level in corn used as or in animal feed.
  • The blended corn will be clearly identified and labeled for animal feed use only.
  • Corn containing aflatoxin levels greater than 500 ppb cannot be blended.
  • Finished blends must be clearly labeled with the final aflatoxin concentration and state which livestock animals qualify as suitable to consume the corn according to section 683.100 of the FDA Compliance Policy Guide.

All shipments of blended corn require clearly labeled aflatoxin level in ppb and a statement of the intended use for the grain. Blenders are required to utilized  USDA-GIPSA validated "sampling & analysis protocols and testing procedures" for corn, ensuring optimal accuracy and ruggedness of results.

A link to USDA-GIPSA approved sampling procedures may be found here:

A list of USDA-GIPSA approved aflatoxin test kits may be found here: - click on Chapter 8 to quickly review the VICAM AflaTest procedure, a USDA-GIPSA approved, six (6) minute test for quantitative aflatoxin determination.






Tuesday, July 10, 2012

How a sample is chosen for mycotoxin analysis is a key factor in successful mycotoxin monitoring and management. In fact, the USDA-GIPSA reports that sampling contributes close to 90% of the error associated with aflatoxin testing. The remainder of error consists of sample preparation and detection methods.

Why is a sample so important? Consider aflatoxin, which is regulated at trace levels (µg/kg or ppb) worldwide for a large number of commodities. Because aflatoxins occur in tiny amounts — a part per billion is roughly equivalent to a single kernel in ten semi truckloads of corn — it would be difficult to overstate the importance of a sample in producing meaningful results for the laboratory or processing facility.

Toxin-producing fungi may occur and be visible on a crop without actually producing mycotoxins. Although Aspergillus flavus may produce a blue-green mold which is visible to the human eye, an ear of corn with a pristine appearance may contain aflatoxin levels up to 400,000 ppb. Therefore, visual inspection does not provide enough information regarding potential contamination, and laboratories should rely on a comprehensive and statistically sound sampling protocol to provide the best opportunity for detecting the presence of mycotoxins in bulk shipments, packaged and finished food, and agricultural products.

Our customers often request input regarding sampling and best practices for obtaining results to help them manage their raw materials supply stream and prevent mycotoxins contamination during storage and processing. The feed industry, in particular, uses a broad range of feedstuffs which are susceptible to mycotoxins. Alfalfa, soybeans, corn, wheat, barley, rice milling, milo, and many more raw materials intended for feeds and pet foods may become contaminated with mycotoxins in the field during cultivation, or later during storage or processing.

In order to address the question of sampling, VICAM has invited Dr. Tom Whitaker, Professor Emeritus of Biological and Agricultural Engineering with North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina, to present “Best Practices for Sampling and Testing of Mycotoxins” along with Dr. Stephen Powers, VICAM’s Director of Research and Development. “Sampling errors represents the single largest source of errors in mycotoxin analysis of commodities. Results from an unrepresentative sample can grossly over- or underestimate contamination. This is why we will be devoting half of our webinar presentation to sampling issues,”

Join us for this timely webinar presentation which will empower you to make quality management decisions that work for you and your business. Click here to register today


Hot Commodities: The Enduring Allure of Spices

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Spices whisper delicious secrets from our past. Lean in closely and they weave a historic tale of intrigue, exploration and global transformation – can you hear it?

When you think of spices, what comes to mind? The earthy, floral scent of saffron? The strong and hearty flavors of garlic and onion from a divine curry? How about cinnamon? A spice so common that as you sprinkle it on your oatmeal, you don’t realize you’re probably consuming Cassia, a close and less costly relative. “True cinnamon” is sweeter, softer and culled from the inner bark of a tree found only in Sri Lanka and southeast India.

Spices flavored, colored and preserved food in the ancient world, but they were important for other reasons too. Cosmetics, dyes, ointments, religious rituals and embalming processes incorporated spices and increased the demand for these rare and valuable commodities.

Wealth and privilege have their advantages, but in the ancient world even royals and aristocrats were burdened by the high cost of spices – black pepper was literally worth its weight in gold. Cinnamon held fifteen times the value of silver by weight – 350g of true cinnamon could purchase 5Kg of silver. The Roman Emperor Nero is said to have burned a year’s worth of cinnamon at the funeral of his second wife – an extravagant act meant to signify the depth of his grief.

Savvy spice traders hid the origins of spices from early Egyptian and European buyers using fearsome stories and clever marketing strategies. Mythical, bird-like creatures built nests using large pieces of cinnamon, they claimed, and a cunning plot designed by the traders was used to destroy the nests and gain access to the cinnamon. Belief in such tales was strong in the ancient world and soon a monopoly was born. High prices and the belief that access to spices was scarce held sway over much of human civilization until explorers set out to discover faster routes to India. En route, they discovered the New World.

Centuries of intrigue, wars, exploration and innovation have culminated in the global spice market which today equates to 1M tons and $ 3.2 Billion USD annually. Strong growth is anticipated due to an increased demand for convenience foods, new spices and flavors, a growing knowledge and fascination with ethnic cuisine and scientific research which is beginning to prove what our ancestors always knew – spices are good for you.

Interest in food safety, sustainability and traceability has created an atmosphere of collaboration among spice-growing regions. India, China, Indonesia and Madagascar are major exporters, with India exporting 50 varieties of spices to 150 countries. Last year, India created the new World Spice Organization (WSO), based in Kochi, Kerala. The WSO plans to leverage industry and academic knowledge toward the pursuit of sustainability for its substantial and growing global market.

Science and technology will continue to change the way spices are bought and sold. However, it is the pungent, sweet, sour and fiery flavors that will remind us that they helped change the course of history - if we lean in closely and listen.


How Global Warming Could Change the War on Mycotoxins

Thursday, April 05, 2012

How will climate change redraw the battle lines against the one of the most enduring threats to the world’s food supply? Mycotoxin researchers are striving to predict the toxic fallout of global warming as concern about its ecological impact mounts.

Potential Shifts on the Aflatoxin Front

Recent risk assessments present a mixed picture. For temperate regions in Europe and North America, the plant stresses caused by an ongoing pattern of weather extremes could raise the specter of widespread aflatoxin contamination. According to statistical models developed by the European Food Safety Authority’s Emerging Risk unit, an average temperature increase of 2°C could pose a significant hazard to maize grown in southern Italy, central and southern Spain, and the Balkans. The study results also projected a change in aflatoxin distribution patterns. With continued increases in winter temperatures and rainfall, both the growing region for maize and the subsequent risk to this staple cereal crop could extend toward northern EU countries.

As scientists scan the climate change horizon in other areas world, some have speculated about a potential bright spot in the mycotoxin forecast. While aflatoxins may gain ground in unfamiliar territory, warming trends could eventually push the deadly species out of their favorite habitat. Aflatoxin-producing fungi typically thrive in tropical regions. But there’s a limit to their heat tolerance. If tropical hotspots begin experiencing temperatures above 40°C, these toxigenic fungi could conceivably die out. That outcome would be a tremendous boon to developing nations, but it’s not the only scenario under consideration. With stable temperatures and more frequent droughts, for instance, the already serious risk of aflatoxin–related diseases and economic losses could skyrocket.  

An Uncertain Future

In latitudes that remain too chilly to favor aflatoxin growth, global warming may foster higher levels of ochratoxin A and patulin. Those same mycotoxins may become less problematic in milder temperate environments. At this point, the reality of how these different scenarios will play out is unclear. Ultimately, however, the effects of climate shifts on natural ecosystems could have game-changing consequences. The struggle of fungi to adapt to new stresses might even fuel genetic mutations, leading to new mycotoxin species. The task of identifying and planning for emerging risks poses tremendous challenges for the food safety community. But in the fight to protect the world’s food supply, the changing face of the enemy calls for increased vigilance.


European Food Safety Authority, Modeling, Predicting And Mapping the Emergence of Aflatoxins in Cereals in the EU Due to Climate Change, (January 2012)

R. Russell M. Paterson, Nelson Lima, How Will Climate Change Affect Mycotoxins in Food? Food Research International 43 (2010) pp. 1902–1914

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