Measuring mycotoxin levels in feed batches can be a meticulous and expensive process, with long waits and distant laboratories involved. What is needed is speed, efficiency and preferably against lower costs. Why not simplify the process by bringing the lab to the sample?
When it comes to assessing the levels of mycotoxins that may be present in raw materials and final feed, integrators and feed millers are faced with some difficult choices. On one hand, they would like to know exactly which mycotoxins may be involved, as well as the degree of contamination. On the other, however, they need to be able to take effective action within hours, rather than waiting days to receive lab test analyses. That truckload or siloful of feed materials just will not wait. Therefore, it is not surprising that mycotoxin risk management is often a matter of guesswork. This can lead to both under- or over-treatment, resulting in unnecessarily high costs or reduced animal performance. Either way, it is an inefficient way to work.
On-the-spot testing is gaining ground
The most commonly used methods for analysing mycotoxins are HPLC and LCMS, although with these it takes several days until the results are available. Using ELISA, it is possible to perform the actual analysis on-site, but only if a laboratory is available on the premises.
If that is not the case, the samples need to be sent off to a remote lab, resulting in a delay of at least 2 days.
By at that stage, the final feed may already have been manufactured or even fed to the animals. A system called Mycomaster from Masterlab offers an accurate yet easy to use alternative, as it enables feed millers and integrators to analyse mycotoxin levels within a matter of minutes, at the site itself. Since no laboratory facilities are required, the costs are also only 20-25% of the average price for conventional HPLC testing (see Table 1).
Why quick, regular analysis is vital
Mycotoxin contamination levels are difficult to predict and fluctuate significantly from one year to the next and between batches, due to differences in harvesting conditions, the origin of the raw materials, and the conditions in which these raw materials are stored. The ability to perform rapid analysis on-site at any chosen moment without the need for a laboratory technician is a real benefit.
It enables feed millers and integrators to have a practical risk management system that they can control and operate themselves. What’s more, the ability to quickly assess what is in the raw materials allows them to adequately treat the feed to guarantee high quality for the end users.
Finding the main contaminants – fast
Mycomaster is a rapid, cost-effective and easy-to-use system which can be operated outside a laboratory. The complete kit consists of 2 boxes and can easily be transported and operated at any preferred location, for example to analyse raw materials or complete feed in a feed mill. The system offers a rapid method for quantifying the 6 most common mycotoxins:
- aflatoxin (AFLA),
- deoxynivalenol (DON),
- zearalenone (ZEA),
- ochratoxin (OCHRA),
- fumonisin (FUM), and
- T2 toxin (T2-HT2).
The average time needed to quantify one mycotoxin is approximately 15 minutes, of which the first 10 minutes are spent on proper sample preparation (sampling, grinding, and preparing the solution, centrifuging, filtering, extracting and activating the system). Laboratory skills are not needed, and members of staff can easily be trained to perform the analyses. After activation, it will take 5 minutes until the result (in ppb) is indicated. This includes the incubation time.
A comprehensive risk management system
Of course, quantifying mycotoxin levels at a specific point in time is only the first step. It’s also crucial to be able to interpret and act on the results obtained. For instance, are the values indicated in line with those of the feed mill’s local quality control system? Does feed for all animal species need the same kind of treatment? How do the mycotoxin levels in this batch relate to those in previous consignments?
Feed millers and integrators can answer these questions by connecting the device to the secured online customer database. This enables users to input new data, compare it with reference data from a similar region, and to create their own management reports. The database can also provide insights into local and global mycotoxin patterns. All of this information helps users decide whether a mycotoxin control product should be added to the feed, and to determine the quantity that may be required.
More than binding alone
After analysing the level of contamination, it’s important to incorporate an appropriate treatment in the final feed to minimise the presence of any mycotoxins detected. The main complicating factor is that increasingly more often, raw materials and feed are contaminated by several different mycotoxins simultaneously.
Several studies show that purified and activated smectites effectively bind mycotoxins such as Aflatoxins, but their effect on binding Fusarium toxins, such as Deoxynivalenol (DON) and Zearalenone (ZEA), are less established. As a result, a treatment which works only by binding mycotoxins is usually not sufficient. In contrast, adding a treatment with several different modes of action to the final feed can help animals maintain a better health status during exposure to mycotoxins, as shown in numerous in vivo studies.
4 treatment strategies for combatting mycotoxins
A fourfold treatment approach has shown to be most effective in treating mycotoxin contamination. This combines ingredients that bind mycotoxins with others that support the intestinal barrier, the immune system and the detoxification process. One example of how this integrated approach works can be seen in the Toxo range by Selko Feed Additives.
1. Effective binding capacity
A specific combination of smectite clays binds Aflatoxin B1 (AFB1) more effectively than smectites or bentonites alone (see Table 2).
2. Supporting gut barrier function
Mycotoxins are known to distress the intestinal wall, which may lead to impaired barrier function and malabsorption of nutrients. Since not all mycotoxins can be bound by clays, it is important to include supplementary mechanisms. For this reason, glucose biopolymers can be added. These have been shown to reduce tight junction breakdown by mycotoxins, thus contributing to a strong intestinal barrier.
3. Maintaining a healthy immune system
Numerous mycotoxins can influence the immune system when they are absorbed into the bloodstream. Specific activated ß-glucans are known for their positive effects on the immune system.
4. Supporting detoxification mechanisms
Mycotoxins ingested by the animal via feed need to be detoxified in the body. Specific vitamins and antioxidants up-regulate enzymes involved in all three phases of the detoxification process, while also reducing oxidative stress.
An effective management programme
The best basis for a mycotoxin control programme is a system allowing rapid on-site analysis of the mycotoxin contamination level in raw materials, combined with up-to-date information on the mycotoxin risk and susceptibility per animal species. This enables feed millers and integrators to regularly take and test samples, quickly take any action required, and produce high-quality feed to maintain animals in optimal health, thereby contributing to better results.