COLLEGE STATION – A new grain-testing program administered by the Office of the Texas State Chemist will bring consistency to the marketplace in light of aflatoxin issues over the past few years, according to its director.

The program pursues a one-sample strategy that “builds consistency in aflatoxin testing among commercial grain establishments and end-users in Texas,” said Dr. Tim Herrman, director. “It will also align aflatoxin results between the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Risk Management Agency and our office.”

Expert: One sample grain-testing program to bring consistencyThe dark green pictured on this corn ear is Aspergillus flavus, the fungus that produces aflatoxins. A new grain-testing program administered by the Office of the Texas State Chemist will bring consistency to the marketplace in light of aflatoxin issues over the past few years. (Texas AgriLife Research photo by Blair Fannin)

 Aflatoxin is toxin produced by a fungus that grows in some grain and oilseed crops. Contamination is both a food safety and public health issue, because at high doses the toxin can lead to serious illness, including acute liver cirrhosis and death in both humans and animals, Herrman said.

“At sub-lethal doses, aflatoxin exposure could increase risk of liver cancer,” Herrman said.

The one-sample strategy is a voluntary program administered by the Office of the Texas State Chemist, a regulatory agency headquartered in College Station and part of Texas AgriLife Research. The program incorporates USDA sampling methods outlined in the USDA Risk Management Agency Loss Adjustment Manual Program, Herrman said.

Participants must use Federal Grain Inspection Service-approved test kits validated by the state chemist office  for measuring aflatoxin up to 1,000 parts per billion.

Herrman said state chemist office field investigators conduct on-site training of grain industry personnel on how to perform sampling for aflatoxin testing using official procedures. He said the field investigators “serve as the competent authority to ensure that official procedures are followed during harvest.”

To minimize the negative impact of multiple aflatoxin measurements and non-uniform adoption of official procedures, the one-sample strategy utilizes a single corn sample for purchasing, regulatory and crop insurance decisions, Herrman said.

“The ‘one-sample strategy’ includes proficiency testing for sampling and testing, adoption of quality control techniques including the daily use of control samples and scale calibration, coupled with unannounced inspections, record reviews and verification of aflatoxin test results using retained samples,” Herrman said.

In 2011, the state chemist office implemented the one-sample strategy as a step to achieve full compliance with Food and Drug Administration Amendments Act and fulfill pending requirements of the Food Safety Modernization Act and minimize market risk, Herrman said.

Each truckload of corn delivered to a commercial grain elevator may be sampled and tested for aflatoxin three times for grain purchasing, crop insurance and regulatory oversight.

“Multiple tests yield different aflatoxin results and create uncertainty in the market,” Herrman said. “Aflatoxin is not uniformly distributed in corn and it is measured in parts per billion. Consequently, a 30 percent variation between aflatoxin samples is common when a truckload of corn is tested multiple times using official procedures.”

When official procedures are not followed, a 60 percent variation between aflatoxin sample measurement has been documented by state chemist field investigators, Herrman said.

In Texas, aflatoxin-contaminated cereals and oilseeds exceeding 20 parts per billion must be labeled as feed and channeled to the appropriate end-use, Herrman said.

“Aflatoxin contamination exceeding 300 parts per billion is managed through blending and disposition plans involving regulatory oversight by the state chemist office,” Herrman said.

In addition to the one-sample strategy, the state chemist office approved the use of aflatoxin binders for use in animal feed and it continues to pursue additional steps to ensure product safety, according to Herrman.

“These activities include the development of advanced tracking and tracing technology and a science-based risk assessment to establish safe levels of aflatoxin for specific animals and growth stages,” he said.

Texas corn growers and end-users expect that risk management requirements by the state of Texas and FDA to utilize current science, he said.

“The adoption of this multi-prong approach will help manage market and food-safety risk associated with aflatoxin,” Herrman said. “This will yield a positive impact on the Texas corn market. In addition to protecting the Texas feed and food supply, efforts by this office will close the gap in price between Texas and Midwest-grown corn by instilling confidence in the market place.”

For more information about the one sample program, click here.