Detecting and Quantifying Mycotoxins with LC-MS/MS

mycotoxinWith the availability of sensitive mass selective instruments, such as tandem mass spectrometers and high-resolution mass spectrometers, today’s food safety chemists have the ability to accurately analyze multiple classes of mytotoxins simultaneously with minimal sample preparation. Mycotoxins, which are low-molecular weight, chemically diverse toxins, are produced naturally by molds commonly found in grains and fruit and have been linked to a wide range of negative health effects.

Performing mycotoxin analysis has been a long-standing challenge for food safety chemists. Stringent requirements from governing bodies demand accurate limits of quantification at low ug/kg levels and test the limits of standard laboratory instruments and typical extraction and purification techniques. The task is further complicated when the simultaneous analysis of multiple classes of mytocoxins is desired. However, with the advent of liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry/mass spectrometry (LC/MS/MS) methods, food chemists are now able to analyze food products for accurate and reproducible quantification of very low levels of several mycotoxins at once.

Regulating Mycotoxins

Mycotoxins are secondary metabolites produced by various species of fungi under certain environmental conditions. These toxins display numerous adverse physiological responses in plants, animals and humans. For example, mycotoxins may act as carcinogens, teratogens, genotoxins, nephrotoxins, nerotoxins, hepatoxins and immunosuppressors in mammals. Mycotoxins have been implicated as causes of cancer and mutagenicity, as well as estrogenic, gastrointestinal, urogenital, vascular, kidney and nervous disorders.

Due to these detrimental health effects of mytotoxins, regulatory bodies have instituted action levels for various mycotoxins in foods and feed worldwide. For example, the EU has regulated the content of aflatoxins, fumonisins, selected trichothecenes, ochratoxin A, zearalenone and patulin in differing commodities. In the U.S., the FDA has regulated the level of aflatoxins, deoxynivalenol and patulin in foods and feed.

Advantages of LC-MS/MS for Mycotoxin Testing

Historically, individual mycotoxins or their classes have been analyzed with analyte/specific methods. Typical techniques of analysis have included HPLC with floresence or UV detection, GC with FID or EC detection and ELISA. Mass spectrometry has also been used for targeted analysis of individual or similar groups of mytotoxins. With the introduction of sensitive, fast scanning tandem mass spectrometers, multi-mycotoxin analysis for routine samples after non-targeted extractions is now feasible.

Overall, LC-MS/MS is a highly specific and extremely sensitive technique for testing food products with superior accuracy and higher throughput than traditional analytical methods. LC-MS/MS allows the potential monitoring of hundreds of contaminants in a single run, plus it requires less sample preparation due to its level of sensitivity. For mycotoxins specifically, LC-MS/MS is a powerful tool as it allows laboratories to confirm the presence and structure of multiple mycotoxins simultaneously, in less time, with greater accuracy. Food chemists can screen for, quantitate and identify several mycotoxins in a single run on a single system.

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