Mycotoxins are naturally occurring fungi which typically grow on wheat-based foodstuffs, including cereals and bread, under humid conditions. They can cause a variety of adverse health effects in humans such as damaging kidneys or compromising immune systems. In efforts to safeguard the food chain, a series of EU-funded research teams developed a low-cost device able to detect traces of mycotoxins in feed, food and beverages.
Traditional methods of detecting toxins in food products are often unreliable and prove a costly and time-consuming feat for SMEs. Against this background, a collaborative venture by the University of Rome and the Research Institute INESC-MN, Portugal initiated under the OTASENS project. The researchers developed a novel device able to perform rapid detection and quantification of ochratoxin A or OTA - a highly toxic strain of mycotoxin - in wine, beer and feed through a linear array of a-Si:H photosensors deposited on a glass substrate.
The device is able to detect highly toxic varieties of mycotoxins. It was integrated with surfaces treated in different ways in order to gauge their sensitivity to mycotoxins in several food and feed products. Spearheaded by two SMEs, OSTASENS experimented with different extraction methodologies, by analyzing food both naturally contaminated and fortified with OTA.
Mycotoxins are often resistant to decomposition and as such can remain in the food chain, posing a threat to important sources of human nutrition - particularly meat and dairy products. To tackle this, the new device will be able to perform a reliable analysis in various settings including canteens, breweries and farms with aim to satisfy the requirements of food quality control.
Now that a compact portable device has been developed, the next step consists in making the transition from prototype to commercial device. The recently-launched DEMOTOX project aims to do just that, preparing a pre-series of devices ready to be introduced into the commercial market within the next 2 years.
SMEs, which are strongly interested in a low-cost and efficient method of identifying contamination in food, will be working together with researchers from OSTASENS. A small team will prepare around 20 demonstrative devices which will be distributed to end users in various sectors to pilot the device's commercial potential.
Combining expertise in product development, management, and risk mitigation, members of OSTASENS and DEMOTOX have set out to take the device to market with the assistance of competent external bodies. A kick-off meeting is scheduled in late August to demonstrate the new device to stakeholder's and interest groups. Through commercialization, project partners hope to make SMEs in the food industry more competitive while increasing safety across the food chain.
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