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Mould toxins (mycotoxins)

Mycotoxins (mould toxins) are natural byproducts found in mould. These microorganisms infest foods and fodder in the field and during storage or transport. The effects of mycotoxins range from toxic to carcinogenic.

Mycotoxins are highly stable molecules that are not destroyed by exposure to heat, for instance during cooking or baking.

Among other things, Regulation (EC) No 1881/2006 defines the maximum contents of mycotoxins in food. The Contaminant Ordinance (KmV) also applies in Germany; it specifies the maximum contents of aflatoxins and ochratoxin A.

SYNLAB Service

  • Multi-methods using HPLC-MS/MS for trace analysis of many mycotoxins.
  • Oriented screening by means of the ELISA methods to detect the most important mycotoxins in grain and fodder
  • Biomolecular PCR detection of toxin-producing Fusarium fungi

We regularly participate in inter-laboratory studies to maintain our high quality standards.

The following examples of the most common mycotoxins indicate their prevalence and effects:

Mykotoxin Producer Location Effect
Aflatoxins Aspergillus sp. Dried fruit, pistachios, nuts, peanuts, maize grains, milk Significant carcinogenic potential
Deoxynivalenol (DON) Fusarium sp. Cereal (wheat, barley, oats), maize Gastrointestinal irritant in farm livestock: growth inhibitor, impairment of the immune system, elevated susceptibility to infection
Fumonisine Fusarium sp. Maize and corn Carcinogenic potential suspected
Ergot alkaloids Claviceps purpurea Cereal (rye, durum, spelt, barley, triticale) Toxic (nausea, headaches, cramps, loss of sensation in arms and legs, womb contractions, spontaneous aborts)
Ochratoxin A (OTA)  Aspergillus sp. Maize and corn (wheat, barley, wheat, rye, buckwheat, rice, millet), fruit and vegetables (grapes, figs, citrus fruit), processed products (wine, fruit/vegetable juice, beer), fruit spices, coffee, cocoa (chocolate) Nephrotoxic, hepatotoxic, carcinogenic potential suspected
Patulin (PAT) Penicillium expansum, Penicillium sp., Aspergillus sp., Byssochlamis sp. Apple juice, stewed apple, cider, fruit and vegetables, bread, meat Genotoxic, nerve toxin, causes vomiting, digestive disorders (inflammation of the gastric mucosa)
Trichothecene (z. B. T-2, HT-2) Fusarium sp. Maize and corn (wheat, oats) Reduced appetite, vomiting, impairment of the immune system
Zearalenon (ZEA) Fusarium sp. Maize and corn (wheat, barley)

Pronounced estrogen effect


Mycotoxin analysis: HPLC or ELISA

HPLC and ELISA are always suitable for mycotoxin analysis. We will outline the differences between these methods below: Please contact our experts if you are uncertain which method is best suited to your issue.

HPLC – a sensitive analysis method

HPLC (high-performance liquid chromatography) is particularly suited if:

  • low detection limits are mandatory, 
  • legal limits require checking, or 
  • a broad spectrum of mycotoxins will be analysed.

HPLC is a sensitive, multi-stage analysis method that requires elaborate sample preparation and hence delivers the most reliable results. A multi-method can also be applied on request to determine several toxins in one analysis cycle. The HPLC method is used for all types of food and fodder and for a broad range of mycotoxins.

ELISA – a rapid screening method

The ELISA method (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) can present an alternative to HPLC for selected mycotoxins. This screening method can provide orientation, especially for fodder. In most cases the detection thresholds in the ELISA method will be inadequate for the analysis of food.

We can detect the following mycotoxins using the ELISA method:

  • Deoxynivalenol (DON)
  • Zearalenone (ZEA)
  • Ochratoxin A (OTA)
  • other mycotoxins on request


Users are advised to substantiate their results using the HPLC method in the event that an ELISA screening returns indications of elevated mycotoxin contents.

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