Some answers to food production problems

Scientists seek answers to food production problems

 Some answers have been provided as interventions to some food production issues. Wish you happy reading


Many factors can compromise the quality and/or safety of a food product. But one of the most common scenarios that faces a manufacturer is an unexpected problem that comes with a change of supplier.

The irony is that everything seems fine when the ingredient is received. It meets its specification (and this is similar to the previous supplier’s), yet nonetheless, the finished product ends up being far from satisfactory. The problem might be one of flavour, appearance, performance or smell, but whatever it is, the challenge is to find out what has changed as a consequence of changing the supplier, and to take steps to put things right.


Analytical approaches to problem solving

Some problems stand out such as a bad smell, the wrong colour, failure of performance, or presence of foreign bodies. Other problems may not be so obvious e.g. microbial spoilage, adulteration, inauthentic ingredients.

However, whether obvious or not, every problem must be investigated. There are a range of analytical techniques to help find out what has gone wrong and to inform what needs to be done to correct it.

Few manufacturers will have all of these techniques available on-site, so are likely to need to outsource some or all of the investigative work to a specialist laboratory. It makes a lot of sense to find a laboratory to partner with well in advance of a problem occurring, so that they are better able to assist when a problem arises!


Potential problems:

Appearance/foreign body

Blemishes and discolouration may be the result of chemical contamination or perhaps microbial spoilage; their investigation will likely involve the chemical techniques referred to in the discussion of taints (below). Other cosmetic/aesthetic problems such as sediments or a visible separation of emulsions, will be investigated by the physical techniques applicable to performance problems (also below).

Foreign bodies are a separate case. They can be broadly classified as extrinsic or intrinsic: The former come from external sources either by deliberate or accidental means. Intrinsic foreign bodies include ingredients such as a leaf or stalk, or an ingredient in an unusual/unexpected state.

A broad spectrum of technologies are routinely used in foreign body investigations, but simple light microscopy is often the starting point. It can be used to determine features that are typical or characteristic of the likely source, thereby directing scientists to the sophisticated methods that will provide confirmation.

Different techniques are required for different types of contaminant. For example, a scanning electron microscope fitted with an energy dispersive X-ray (EDX) detector is useful for identifying the elemental composition of items such as metal fragments. Plastic fragments, which may look like glass, require confirmation using a technique known as Fourier transform – infra red spectroscopy (FT-IR).



An inappropriate taste or smell (or discoloration) in a product is usually due to the unexpected/unwanted presence of any number of chemicals. Or there may be an absence of key ingredients (e.g. bitterness blockers), or failure of a taste-masking system (e.g. encapsulation of oils), that might otherwise be expected to keep the unwanted flavours in check.

Taints can come from direct contamination, packaging or the airspace in a bottle/jar. The unwanted chemical may come from microbial spoilage, or perhaps from reaction of ingredients within the product.

Isolating and identifying a tainting chemical is often a challenge because certain taints can be very potent at very low concentrations (e.g. 20 parts per trillion). It depends on the product they are found in but chemicals like halo-anisoles and benzene are especially potent. Whilst certain groups or families of chemicals give rise to specific flavours/odours that an experienced chemist will recognise, there are thousands of potential tainting chemicals in widespread use, so there is never one obvious candidate.

A taint or off-flavour can originate at any point in the lifetime of a product, from production of the raw materials through to eventual consumption. Hence it may be necessary to trace the source of a taint back to any point in the supply chain.

Investigations will usually involve an initial assessment by human senses. If the offending chemical is believed to be organic (i.e. carbon-based) there will follow a chemical extraction procedure, separation via chromatography (either liquid or gas) and identification of the chemical using mass spectrometry or possibly nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectrometry. A metallic contaminant will be detected using inductively coupled plasma (ICP) mass spectrometry or ICP-optimal emission spectroscopy.

This simple description belies the complexity that might be involved. As noted above, taints can be present in ppt concentrations. There is huge skill involved in extracting the taint, at detectable levels, free of other chemicals that might interfere with the analysis, and (in the case of volatile odours) without simply losing the chemical to the atmosphere before it can be identified.



Problems with the flow of liquids and semi-solids can be investigated using rheological instruments. These instruments apply different shearing forces which can mimic how materials might flow against different surfaces and internally. Such measurements will inform manufacturers of potential processing problems (e.g. when pumping) as well as problems with the behaviour of finished products. The resistance to flow by powders within hoppers, for example, can lead to clogging, or an accumulation of out-of-date material. The propensity for powders to behave in a disadvantageous manner can be predicted via a combination of powder rheology (Shear cell), particle sizing and microscopy.

Performance issues often come down to a problem with particle sizes or shape, as with the instability of an emulsion, or the gritty mouth feel of a product. This can be investigated using laser diffraction instruments, often in combination with microscopy techniques. The size and shape of particles can also be measured using static image analysis, which is a useful alternative to manual microscopy.

It is sometimes possible to observe how ingredients are distributed within a product by using X-ray tomography techniques along with the scanning electron microscope. This can give useful information about why a product performs badly. Even simple light microscopy, used with staining procedures can identify some of the microstructural features that are giving rise to performance problems.

The modern laboratory also has access to a range of instruments that can load products with crushing or stretching forces to investigate structural weaknesses (or strength).


Customer complaint/illness

Customers may attribute illness to a particular food item that shows no other signs of being at fault. Clearly, a manufacturer will want to investigate a complaint of this kind, with the possibility of allergen or pathogen contamination being a particular cause for concern.

Microbiological testing can address the latter, however allergen testing can be more complicated. As such, much depends on the nature of the complaint and the likelihood, or otherwise, that specific allergens might have come into contact with the product or its ingredients/packaging.

Tests for allergens usually rely on enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) techniques directed at specific proteins, or DNA techniques that can detect trace amounts of DNA associated with allergenic ingredients. In both cases, but especially with ELISA, it is important to be aware of the potential for interferences inherent to biological assays that can lead to false positive or false negative results. A laboratory must have robust protocols in place to reduce the risk of any false results.


High profile scandals (horsemeat in beef, melamine in milk) remind us that the food supply chain is extremely complex and global, and tracing the origin of ingredients is near impossible. Moreover, not every player in the supply chain is necessarily honest or legitimate.

Whether there has been a specific incident, notification of a wider industry-concern or merely a desire on behalf of the manufacturer to protect their interests (perhaps with a new supplier), there are analytical approaches that will assist in determining the authenticity of a particular supply. However, this is very much dependent on the ingredient in question and authenticity is not always easy to prove.

Testing for authenticity in the case of meat and fish is relatively routine, using DNA methods that can target gene sequences found in one species but not in another. However the quantification of cross contamination in meat against the level set by the FSA still requires specialist knowledge and testing.

Other authenticity issues are more complex. For example, olive oil has well defined acceptable ranges for a variety of naturally occurring compounds giving the analyst a set of parameters that can be measured to assess authenticity.

Other techniques such as isotope ratio analysis have become established but these depend on building a large database of samples, at considerable cost. So new approaches such as non-targeted screening (NTS) are now being applied. Rather than looking for specific chemical compounds, analysts are applying chemo-metric or food-omic approaches to identify differences between samples and a dataset of known authentic ingredients. This ‘probabilistic’ approach to testing is useful for identifying ‘outliers’, allowing analysts to focus on the suspect samples more easily, and to devote time to more careful scrutiny of these.

Where adulteration is suspected, new methods may need to be developed as a matter of urgency to address the specific problem. In the melamine in milk example, a nitrogen-rich chemical had been added to milk to fool a test that judged quality by nitrogen content. That particular test had no means of detecting the source of nitrogen, and an entirely different way of testing milk was needed for this fraud to come to light.



It is impossible to give a definitive list of problems and solutions, even in a very broad sense. Each problem needs to be assessed and investigated on its own merits.

It is also impossible for every manufacturer to equip itself with the resources and expertise that would be needed to investigate every potential problem. Rather every manufacturer should seek to partner with an expert laboratory that understands its processes, and can work with them to highlight potential weaknesses, and understand vulnerabilities.

At least this approach will ensure that when a problem does occur, whatever it happens to be, there is help at hand to identify what has gone wrong, and recommendations on what needs to be done to put it right.

First published in 2016  by

Reading Scientific Services Limited



Aug 1 2017


The app was developed by Mobile Assay, which specializes in mobile lab innovations. The test, more formally known as an immunoassay test, involves analysing a colour-changing test strip for the presence of a particular substance, in this case Aflatoxin. The test strip is photographed using the smartphone’s camera and the app calculates the pixel density of the coloured strip to determine how much Aflatoxin is present within a certain threshold. Current available lab tests are priced at $15 each plus the cost of transporting samples from rural areas to those equipped with testing facilities. This is out of reach for many in the Global South. Some turn to cheaper tests, which return only a positive or negative result and don’t provide any information about whether or not the level of contamination poses a health threat or is fit for consumption. This test is set to cost about $2-3 and provides such detailed information. What’s more, it is immediately uploaded to an online database tracking Aflatoxin outbreaks.

feb, 2017



Affordable aflatoxin test kit for farmers launched in Malawi

A new technology that can detect aflatoxin on location has been launched by an international agricultural research organisation. The test kit, which was launched by Dr Wilkson Makumba, director, department of Agricultural Research Services (DARS) in Lilongwe, Malawi requires limited technical knowledge or training and can be used on location.

“The new test is simple to perform and can detect contamination at levels of 10 parts per billion in less than 15 minutes .

This exciting advancement combined with a mobile extraction kit is a simple non-laboratory based kit that can be used directly by non-technical people such as farmers, agro-dealers and food processors and will be ready in two months at a cost of Sh200.

“This kit can be used by traders to check for contamination before concluding a sale,” he said. The rapid detection is useful for public health authorities to help identify suspected samples in cases of an outbreak of aflatoxin poisoning.

The compact, portable device is based on the lateral flow immunoassay test (popularly known as the strip test like that used to detect glucose in human blood). If aflatoxin is present in the sample, then one pink line appears on the strip, whereas if the sample doesn’t have any aflatoxin, two pink lines will appear.

“The device will contribute to manage and reduce the entry of aflatoxins in the food value chains, improve diagnosis for local and export trade and support the food processing industry to maintain low exposure levels in food products in our local markets as well as for export markets,” said Dr Anitha Seetha, a scientist in Malawi.

According to Food and Agriculture Organisation, 25 per cent of all crops—including groundnut, maize, sorghum, pearl millet—in the world are affected by aflatoxins. In 2010, about 20,000 people died globally from aflatoxin poisoning and an equal number fell ill, says WHO.

By Milliam Murigi



A new study has found that low-dose and long-term exposure to the  weed killer Roundup causes liver disease in female rats.

However, the company,Monsanto has reacted, saying that the study used “flawed data” from 2012.

The Roundup herbicide contains controversial ingredient glyphosate, which is now one of the world’s most popular weed killers. The use of glyphosate has triggered strong reactions in the EU amid fears the product is carcinogenic.

In late June, the European Commission decided to extend the authorisation licence for glyphosate by 18 months, until the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) gives an opinion on the substance. The ECHA’s opinion is expected in June or September this year.

Commission prolongs glyphosate licence by 18 months

The European Commission has decided to extend the licence for glyphosate by 18 months, after member states failed to achieve a qualified majority in favour or against the executive’s proposal.


Liver disease

A new study published this week (9 January) in Scientific Reports found that low levels of exposure to the weed killer Roundup over an extended period causes liver disease in rats.

The study focused on Roundup and not glyphosate alone and stated that it was not possible “to attribute the toxicity of the whole agricultural herbicide formulation to a given component”.

“Future studies involving the administration of glyphosate alone would shed light on this issue,” the study concluded.

Female rats were administered with an extremely low dose of Roundup weed killer over a two-year period and found to suffer from non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). The dose selected was below what people are commonly exposed to in the everyday environment and 75,000 times below what is permitted by EU regulators.

For a two-year period, female rats were administered a dose of Roundup, approximately 75,000 times below what is permitted by EU regulators for human exposure, and were found to suffer from non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

Researchers pointed out that it was the first time that a causative link between consumption of Roundup at a “real world” environmental dose and a serious disease condition was identified.

Dr. Michael Antoniou, an author of the study, stressed that the findings were “worrying” and called EU policy-makers to reconsider the safety evaluation of glyphosate-based herbicides.

According to Antoniou, fatty liver disease occurs in at least one in five of the general population, and in the vast majority of people with type 2 diabetes.

Mycotoxins and urine testing


Of recent, a lot of research activities have been on regarding diagnosis of mycotoxicosis in man or livestock. Detecting the particular mycotoxin eg aflatoxin, fumonisin  may be  the expected alarm that could send victims on an endless spending errands focussing on chemotherapy . Blood and urine are regular candidates of such test

However, the  National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), a part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),noted that these test results can lead to “misinformation and fear in the workplace; incorrect diagnoses; unnecessary, inappropriate and potentially harmful medical interventions; and unnecessary or inappropriate environmental and occupational evaluations.”

Also the US  FDA has not approved any urine test for mycotoxins. The CDC warns that such tests have not been approved for diagnostic purposes, meaning that you can’t trust them to tell you if anything is wrong with you or what to do about it.

Be guided, seek advice from professionals

“Use of Unvalidated Urine Mycotoxin Tests for the Clinical Diagnosis of Illness — United States, 2014.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, February 20, 2015,


Mycotoxins, livestock and death

Mycotoxins in animal fodder, particularly silage, can decrease the performance of farm animals and potentially kill them

So beware of what you feed your animals. Seek appropriate guide from professionals



Do you have news on production, processing and packaging of food and feed, devoid of contaminants? Do you have information on farmer –friendly interventions that will guarantee healthy consumption? .Are you current on information regarding effects of chemicals/ contaminants, organic food  and Genetic modification in  agriculture and nutrition? Can you promote entrepreneurship through the supply of low-income equipment in Agriculture and drive women and the youth along ?


Please send your information to


About 40% of all cases of liver cancer in Africa are traceable to AFLATOXIN  !!!!!…..  (EC)

News: Dairy and beef cattle at high risk for mycotoxin exposure

Inconsistent weather patterns this past summer wreaked havoc on the 2015 North America crop, producing irregularities in plant growth and now putting dairy and beef cattle at high risk for mycotoxin exposure, according to Alltech’s North America Harvest Analysis.

The annual study surveyed 116 North American corn silage samples from across the United States and Canada from September to November 2015, testing for mycotoxin contamination to determine the risk posed to ruminant animals. The Alltech 37+® mycotoxin analysis found an average 5.6 mycotoxins per sample, with 71 percent of samples testing at high risk to dairy and 59 percent at high risk to beef cow performance. The harvest analysis revealed multiple mycotoxins present in 2015 corn silage, showing the greatest risk for Type A Trichothecenes, Fusaric Acid and Type B Trichothecenes. Fusaric Acid and Type B Trichothecenes were present in almost all corn silage samples and can interact synergistically with each other, increasing toxicity and elevating the potential to impact herd health and performance.

Common symptoms with the ingestion of these toxins include reduced feed intake, lowered blood pressure, swelling and edema of the legs, liver damage, immune response and lowered milk and meat production. Also present this year was Pencillium mycotoxins, commonly known as storage toxins. Found in more than 41 percent of samples, Pencilliums can have a strong impact on rumen health, altering microbial protein and affecting rumen and gut health, which can result in altered production.

“It is important for producers to understand the synergistic effects toxins can have when multiple are present in feed, causing an influx in animal and rumen health challenges,” said Dr. Max Hawkins, Alltech Mycotoxin Management team nutritionist. “Management practices to prevent exposure are always the best course of action. Producers should look to test feed samples at harvest and prior to feedout to identify the risk posed to their animals.”

According to Dr. Alexandra Weaver, Alltech Mycotoxin Management technical specialist, scientific literature shows that at high risk levels to dairy cows, cows may produce 1.34 pounds (0.61L)/milk/day less when consuming mycotoxins. Additionally, milk somatic cell count (SCC) may increase by 48.8 percent. With this loss in performance and considering current milk prices, producers could see an estimated reduction in profitability per cow at $67.27 over one lactation.

“Producers need to be cautious, now more than ever, to ensure proper packing procedures are implemented to avoid spoilage prior to feedout,” Hawkins said. “If left uncontrolled, contamination even at low levels can cause health and performance challenges in livestock, resulting in the loss of production and profitability.”

Source : Alltech mycotoxins

The assessment of mycotoxins contamination in feeds and adsorbents selection



A new view on mycotoxins (MT) and different manifestation of crystal and equal doses of natural MT toxicity action is validated.   The evaluation of MT action on organism under detection of the multiple feed mycotoxins is offered for the first time.   Mycotoxicosis prevention is possible as a result of the adsorbents usage.  The general description of the effective adsorbent selection is provided.

Microscopic fungi are ubiquitous and have the ability to adapt to different habitat conditions. Some of them may develop products that are toxic to humans and animals, which are called mycotoxins (MT). This notion is due to their origin and effect in animals. From the point of the participation in metabolism of the fungi, they are referred to “secondary metabolites”, i.e. substances that are formed during the metabolism, but do not play a role in their life. Not all fungi produce MT, even toxinogenic fungi can grow for several generations  not  producing MT, and then in some circumstances starting to produce them. The common in these substances they are produced by microscopic fungi (molds) and they are toxic for animals, however, MT are  the substances of various chemical structures.

Receiving MT by cultivation of moulds  in the laboratory, there has been  noted that the first 3-4 weeks an intense growth of the mycelium was detected, but in molds  there wasn’t  significant accumulation of MT, then, when the growth of mycelium was suspended, the start of the  active phase MT accumulation happened. Note that the MT synthesis was initiated while the growth of the mycelium was practically stopped. What did the growth of the mycelium limit? – Reduction of the nutrients availability. If the 3-weeks culture was transferred on fresh sterile substrate, the renewed growth of mycelium and only after 3-4 weeks of active growth has begun to show the formation of mycotoxins – this time was required for consumption of nutrients  and the emergence of their deficit. In the habitat fungi may also have deficiency of nutrients. Primarily in the environment along with the fungi there are bacteria which require the same basic nutrients as fungi. Such way between them happens a competition for nutrients. While nutrients are in sufficient amount, fungi and bacteria will not compete for the substrate, however under nutrients deficiency fungi begin to produce MT, which cause the death of bacteria.  Fungi produce toxins to kill competitors. From this point of view MT already are not secondary metabolites, as they provide “survival” of the fungi – they show a protective effect, and in a broad sense they are antibiotics for bacteria. Initiation of MT synthesis is controlled by biochemical regulation: under the limit of the available nutrients appears biochemical signal to switch on the mechanism of  MT formation. In the laboratory MT start to be formed on a sterile substrate (where there are no competitors) after reduction of the nutrient content below a certain critical level as a result of their use. In natural conditions, nutrients availability may be reduced while moisture is lacking, as it reduces nutrients solubility and availability, as well as the effect of other factors that create stress conditions for fungi growth, although they will not be associated with the presence of bacteria.

To completely eliminate the presence of MT in the raw feed material is not possible, therefore in many countries for  the most studied MT there were legally established Maximum Permissible Concentration (MPC)  of toxins, below which the raw materials or feeds can be used without restrictions. In the review of the scientific literature by studying the MT effect in animals it is necessary to pay attention to the sources of toxins, which can be principally two. Pure crystalline MT – they are used when setting the MPC, as well as in the study of the new mycotoxins. There is no another way, because researchers must be confident that the changes occurred in animals during the test is a result of specific MT and its dose. Pure mycotoxins are expensive and not always available for research, so reliable MPC values for large animals are much less than for laboratory animals, birds or piglets.

When the effect of mycotoxins is studied, especially while is determining the effectiveness of adsorbents, feeds contaminated MT under natural conditions are used often. With feeds contaminated naturally in the diet are contributed additional negative factors that the researchers can not control and in some cases do not even suspect their existence. The advantage of this option is – feeds contaminated MT naturally better reflect actual practice. The chemical composition of the contaminated feed is different from the composition of the feed, in which moulds did not grow. It occurs an independent influence in animals and excludes the possibility of objective findings. Research results in most cases are not consistent with those obtained by using pure MT. In this case in addition to toxins, available for analysis, may contain other unknown MT. An important factor to intensify the effect MT of natural origin, is the presence in the diet their unfinished products of biosynthesis, i.e. pretoxins. They also have toxicity, but the available control methods of the pretoxins content haven’t yet existed. Negative effect in animals of MT formed in feeds by natural way due to the presence of pretoxins is more obvious than equal doses of crystal MT.

The results obtained in experiments with the use of feeds contaminated with mycotoxins under natural conditions, are difficult to confirm by other researchers, as in the repeated experiments, the concentration of certain toxins and, respectively, their ratio in each case is unique and can not be duplicated even by the same researcher. The abovementioned differences lead to important practical conclusion: MT of natural origin will have in animals more pronounced negative effect compared with equal doses of toxins legislated as MPC.

In animals consuming feeds containing toxin below the MPC, the last is inactivated by xenobiotic metabolizing system and, therefore, has no apparent effect on the organism. This system does not have a narrow specificity and inactivates in organism many foreign substances.  Xenobiotics or alien to the body substances include mycotoxins, and substances of anthropogenic origin: medications, synthetic antioxidants, colorants and some others (Park 1985; Sheweita 2000; P. Galtier et al., 2008).

Endogenous detoxification of certain mycotoxins occurs at different speed and it varies in animals of different species (Adav and Govindwar. 1997; Ramsdell and Eaton. 1990). The accumulation of scientific data has revealed that the consumption of feed contaminated by multiple MT  can enhance the negative effects of each MT on the organism  (Pedrosa and Borutova. 2011). This is because of the presence several MT in feed, they will be inactivated in the organism  by  the same system of endogenous detoxification, the effectiveness of which has a limit.

In practical conditions in feed there can be some MT at the different concentration capable to cause polymycotoxicosis. So, as a result of the analysis in compound feeds for broilers some mycotoxins were revealed: concentration of each of them didn’t exceed MPC (tab. 1).


Table 1: The assessment of compound feeds for broilers on the mycotoxins content.

author=Prof. Valeriy Kryukov, doctor in biological sciences, professor