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Mitigating mycotoxins in the Canadian food value chain

Principal Investigator

Art W. Schaafsma & Victor Limay Rios

Research Institution

University of Guelph

External Funding Partners

University of Guelph; Pepsico Foods; Mondelēz; Kellogg; Prairie Oat Growers Association; Nestlé; Canadian National Millers Association; Western Grains Research Foundation; Food & Consumer Products Canada

This project is funded in part by the Government of Canada Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, through Growing Forward 2‘s AgriInnovation Program (AIP) — Industry-led Research and Development Stream.

Project Start

March 2016

Project End

December 2019


  • Develop rapid reliable protocol for testing deoxynivalenol (DON) and Ochratoxin A (OTA) during on farm loading using aspirated dust.
  • Building upon on-farm experiences, extend best practices for on-farm storage to minimize the development of OTA, communicating where the critical points are and appropriate action to take.
  • Measuring progress in mitigating DON in wheat by comparing similar epidemics approximately 20 years apart.


  • The development of an information resource for grain farmers to build awareness of Ochratoxin A (OTA) and how it can be managed will allow for a proactive response to detection of OTA and prevent contamination of grain-based foods.
  • The development of a cost effective and non-destructive sampling of OTA and DON in grain loads using aspirated dust has the potential to prevent contaminated grain from entering the value chain.

Scientific Summary

Mycotoxins in whole grains are very difficult to monitor when grain enters the value chain after leaving the farm. Most of the Best Management Practices (BMPs) for mycotoxins must be employed during grain production and on-farm storage and the grain industry has struggled with how to sample and detect mycotoxins in a cost effective, efficient and reliable manner after grain leaves the farm. Currently, deoxynivalenol (DON), the most economic important toxin, is managed in small grains using the Fusarium-damaged kernels (FDK) method. The relationship between FDK and DON is inconsistent by year and across grain market classes and tends to work better when handling very large grain lots. There is resistance to sampling grain and testing for DON at elevators because of the cost, logistics and sampling uncertainty. Other mycotoxins such as Ochratoxin A (OTA), present an even greater challenge for grain sampling and testing. This is due to their greater heterogeneous distribution in grain lots and the lower EU regulations. If OTA in whole grain could be monitored during grain transfer by using dust as a surrogate, most of the serious mycotoxins could be detected at the source, making management much simpler further up the chain. Perhaps this could lead to an option for Identity Preserved load certification.

This project aims to develop a reliable protocol for testing DON and OTA in during on-farm loading and extending lessons learned up the value-chain to manage contamination. Paired samples will be taken as bins or trucks are loaded, by dipper cup sampling at regular intervals and by a continuous aspiration of the grain stream. The dust proportions removed and remaining will be determined for each grain lot, and these fractions with be tested along with the whole grain for multiple toxins. These grain lots will be sampled and tested at the point of delivery by the normal commercial method employed at each location (FDK or DON test). This project will also develop and disseminate extension material on BMPs to manage OTA in grain handling and storage based on the new knowledge we derived from the recently complete on-farm study. Using 1996, the year in which there was virtually 100% crop failure in the great lakes region for soft winter wheat, and 2013 and 2015 which has had virtually identical growing conditions, determine relative benefits of advances in genetic developments in seed, farming practices including forecasting and fungicide application. By creating awareness with various industry sectors we will solicit self-directed monitoring, sampling and identification of possible control points to avoid OTA formation in the grain handling and storage process.

Xia, R., Schaafsma, A.W., Wu, F., and Hooker, D.C. 2020. Impact of the improvements in Fusarium head blight and agronomic management on economics of winter wheat. World Mycotoxin Journal 13(3): 423-439.