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Keep it Clean! touts safe grain storage for cereals

High-moisture conditions, like those present on the Prairies, have high potential for formation of potent mycotoxin Ochratoxin A

Keep it Clean! is warning farmers that recent wet weather has increased potential for the formation of Ochratoxin A (OTA), a potent mycotoxin that forms in high-moisture conditions.

“With the current conditions in Western Canada, it is important that growers are aware of OTA and the conditions under which it can form,” said Brenna Mahoney, director of communications and stakeholder relation for Cereals Canada, one of the organizations that runs the Keep it Clean! initiative.

“By understanding what OTA is and how and when it forms during storage, growers can take proactive steps to safely store their grain and keep it free of OTA,” said Mahoney in a news release.

OTA is produced by Penicillium verrucosum, a naturally occurring soil fungus. Unlike deoxynivalenol (also known as DON or vomitoxin) which is formed in the field, OTA forms exclusively in storage.

OTA is strictly regulated in Europe but not yet in Canada or the U.S. However, because of its potential risk to human health, OTA is carefully monitored by end-users such as food processors, CFIA/Health Canada, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The most common source of Penicillium verrucosum spores is from soil particles, last year’s stored grain, grain-handling equipment, and residues remaining in the bin. Penicillium can grow in small pockets of wet grain or when water comes in contact with grain even in bins that are generally well managed and properly aerated.

Keep it Clean! urges growers to keep bins and grain-handling equipment clean, thoroughly clean dust and debris between grain lots, ensure crops are harvested or dried to a safe level for storage, cool the grain quickly to well below 10 C and keep it cool for as long as possible to minimize condensation in the bin. Even fine droplets of condensate can allow the fungus to grow.

Prevention of even small pockets of OTA-contaminated grain during storage is the only way that it can be managed to protect health and prevent product recalls. By taking steps to prevent the formation of OTA in stored grain, Keep it Clean! says growers can protect their investments and help keep markets open for all.

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