Detection and reduction of the fungal poison aflatoxin in the food chain




Detection and reduction of aflatoxin in the food chain

P.A. Wacoo R. Kort, dr. W.F.H. Sybesma

Faculty of Science

Earth and Life Sciences

PhD conferral

Aflatoxin is a fungal poison with an enormous effect on human and animal health, agriculture and trade. PhD student Paul Alex Wacoo at VU Amsterdam developed a detection device with locally available and inexpensive materials for the on-site detection of aflatoxin. Bacterial fermentation with a novel starter culture appears to be an effective means of disinfecting detected aflatoxins.

Disinfecting aflatoxins
The developed handheld device can be used to detect aflatoxins on the spot, making both traders and farmers more aware of their presence. Wacoo: "In addition, the results in this thesis show that bacterial fermentation is not only a way to enrich food and make it more sustainable, for example through a longer shelf life, but can also serve to reduce contamination with aflatoxin." The fermented product reduces disease arising from aflatoxin intake in humans and promotes rapid excretion of aflatoxins from their body.

Serious health effects
The effect of aflatoxin exposure is especially noticeable in African countries due to poor storage facilities and improper post-harvest treatment practices. The fungal poison can be found in many different foods, including cereals such as rice and corn, soybeans and nuts. The serious health effects associated with eating aflatoxin-contaminated foods include liver cancer, a weakened immune system and growth retardation. In South East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa the aflatoxin contamination is very high in over 70% of food crops at risk, including peanuts and maize. .

Barriers to aflatoxin reduction
High analysis costs (more than 30 dollars per sample) and laborious analysis techniques, which are only found in large food laboratories, are currently a major obstacle to aflatoxin reduction. Because the toxins are colourless and tasteless, it can be difficult to identify. The newly developed hand-hold detection device with locally available and inexpensive materials may offer a solution for this.

More information about the thesis