10/19
2004

ISSUE:
138

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Produce Safety
From Production to Consumption:
2004 Action Plan to Minimize Foodborne Illness
Associated with Fresh Produce Consumption

Partnership for Food Safety Education Kicks-off Safe Produce Handling Campaign

Monday October 18
Source of Article: http://biz.yahoo.com/
Goal to Raise Public Awareness of Produce-Specific Handling Recommendations
ANAHEIM, Calif., Oct. 18 /PRNewswire/ -- The Partnership for Food Safety Education (Partnership), today announced a national food safety education campaign focused on safe handling of fresh fruits and vegetables. Unveiled at the annual convention of the Produce Marketing Association (PMA), the recommendations build on the Partnership's successful Fight BAC!¢ç campaign. Consumer-tested messages will reach the public through the media, the Partnership's national network of public and private Partners, grass roots food safety advocates and through fightbac.org.

The supporting produce handling education materials were developed as part of a collaborative effort among the Partnership's full membership, including several produce industry organizations as well as other government, industry and consumer member-organizations. A complete list of Partnership members can be found at http://fightbac.org. Dissemination of the web-based safe produce handling materials is being supported, in part, through a generous gift to the Partnership from the PMA.

The produce handling education campaign builds on the Partnership's long- standing Fight BAC!¢ç campaign which uses consumer-tested, science-based messages "cook, clean, chill and separate" to promote safe food handling. High levels of consumer awareness for these core recommendations indicates that the Partnership's Fight BAC!¢ç campaign has made great strides educating consumers about these important food safety recommendations.

As part of the new produce education program, additional recommendations have been added highlighting the need to "check" produce (for bruising, damage and refrigeration if fresh cut) and to "throw away" fresh fruits and vegetables under certain conditions that may render them unsafe. All messages were tested with consumers to ensure they are clear and understood. For a full copy of the recommendations and supporting graphics and educational materials visit http://www.fightbac.org.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the agency responsible for regulating the produce industry, supports this effort. "FDA is pleased that the Partnership for Food Safety Education is getting information out to consumers about produce safety," said Dr. Lester M. Crawford, Acting FDA Commissioner. "Raising and maintaining consumer awareness about how to handle fresh produce safely is an important step in the overall goal of reducing foodborne illness."

According to Tim Hammonds, Chairman of the Partnership for Food Safety Education and President and CEO of the Food Marketing Institute, ongoing education is imperative.

"The Partnership's newly released consumer quantitative research findings show that in most cases, the greater consumers' message awareness, the greater the likelihood that they follow the safe handling recommendations," said Hammonds. "The survey suggested awareness of some produce-specific recommendations would be increased if consumers were provided more concise messages. We will leverage the Partnership's Fight BAC!¢ç campaign and the vast network of Partnership members and BAC! Fighters to help get the word out," he continued.

To facilitate safe produce handling education efforts, the Partnership has enhanced the existing FightBAC!¢ç program offerings with new produce handling educational materials and community outreach ideas. Materials can be downloaded at http://fightbac.org. They can be customized and include templates for generating local publicity, education tools, a slide presentation, flyers and brochures. Use of these materials by the industry, media and grassroots food safety advocates such as public health officials, educators, and health and nutrition professionals is key to continuing to help Americans understand the specific food safety recommendations.

"Increased consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables is crucial to a healthy diet. That's why it is so important for the Produce Marketing Association to support the Partnership and better educate consumers with the information they need to reduce their risk of foodborne illness," says Bryan Silbermann, Partnership Board member and President of PMA. "While the Partnership's research reveals that great progress has been made, more work needs to be done. Through the Fight BAC!¢ç campaign, PMA joins other industry, government and consumer groups to educate consumers about safe produce handling."

The Partnership for Food Safety Education unites industry associations, consumer and public health groups and the United States Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency and from the Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration, to educate the public about safe food handling and preparation. The Partnership, a non-profit organization, is the creator and steward of the Fight BAC!¢ç campaign, a food safety education program developed using scientifically based recommendations and resulting from an extensive consumer research process. Fight BAC!¢ç materials are fully accessible online at http://www.fightbac.org and utilized by consumers, teachers, dietitians, public health officials and extension agents across the United States.

Source: Partnership for Food Safety Education

Two dozen families drop E. coli suit against fair board

Source of Article: http://www.katu.com/health/story.asp?ID=71828

AP-OR--E Coli Suit EUGENE, Ore. - Two dozen families affected by the largest E.Coli outbreak in Oregon's history have dropped their lawsuit against Lane County and the fair board.
They filed the suit in June 2003 after 82 people became sick at the county fair. A lawyer for the county says the families dropped legal action after experts could not prove how the county could have prevented the outbreak.

Public health investigators traced the fair outbreak to a sheep and goat area, but could NOT determine exactly how people became infected.

Some of the people that were infected became seriously sick. And that includes a two-year-old who needed 17 rounds of dialysis to filter toxins and excess water from her blood.

In response to the outbreak, the fair placed portable hand-washing stations at all barn entrances.

Improving food safety with processing automation
October 15, 2004
Institute of Food Technologists
http://www.ift.org/cms/
Siemens Logistics and Assembly Systems Inc. has developed a white paper for food and beverage manufacturers on food processing automation (including integrated logistics, material handling, and warehousing systems) for improving food safety. The paper can be downloaded at www.usa.siemens.com/logisticsassembly.

Hand washing or hand hygiene - is there a difference?
October, 2004
Food Safety In-Sights? Volume 2 #1 (Environ Health Associates, Inc.)
Roy E. Costa, R.S., M.S. President Environ Health Associates, Inc.
Just as the 2004 influenza season gets underway, we have been told that almost half of the nation's flu vaccine will not be delivered this year. Chiron, a major manufacturer of flu vaccine, will not be
distributing any influenza vaccine this flu season. Chiron was to make 46-48 million doses vaccine for the United States. With this somber picture, it is essential that public health professionals promote good
personal hygiene practices.
Hand washing has been described by the CDC as the single most important means of preventing the spread of infection. While we focus on hand washing, we should recognize that hand hygiene includes hand washing, antiseptic hand wash, antiseptic hand rub, or surgical hand antisepsis. Examining the chain of infection for illnesses transmissible through hand contact, it is clear that if hands are kept clean, AND if hands do not come in contact with reservoirs of contamination, then the potential for disease transmission is doubly reduced.
Food safety professionals rely upon personal hygiene programs as a key, essential part of a food safety system. Personal hygiene in the food industry is all about controlling the person as the source of
infectious and toxigenic agents. Hand washing by itself, unless it is supported by other hygienic practices may not be completely effective.
For example, studies show that asymptomatic carriers of infection are frequently associated with foodborne illness outbreaks. During infections with enteric viruses as norovirus, billions of viral
particles are released during bowel movements. Simply washing hands, even following FDA Food Code guidelines may be insufficient to prevent transmission, and with the sub clinical case, or pre or post
symptomatic case, there is no way to screen infected individuals from working. Barriers, such as single use sanitary gloves to prevent the spread of virus through foods that are ready to eat are an essential
part of hand hygiene efforts.
Dr. Will Sawyer, M.D., of the Henry the Hand Foundation, one of the leaders in the promotion of hand hygiene awareness has developed the 4 Principles of Hand Awareness that have been adopted by the American Medical Association. AMA recommends not placing hands near the eyes, nose, or mouth. Do not cough or sneeze into your hand. Of course wash your hands when they are dirty AND before meals. (SEE PAGE 5) Contact Dr. Sawyer at dr.will@henrythehand.com
While we focus on hand washing as a public health intervention we should be mindful that hand washing by itself needs to be supported by a more comprehensive hand hygiene effort.
The Clean Hands Coalition (CHC) is a multi-disciplined group of professionals and organizations from the public and private sectors dedicated to promoting hand-hygiene awareness. CHC has a wealth of
information available on hand washing and hand hygiene promotional materials available on their website www.cleanhandscoalition.org .

Making Campylobacter Easier to Count
By Sharon Durham
October 15, 2004
A new agar gel has been developed by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists to isolate and count hard-to-see, microscopic organisms that can cause food poisoning.

For researchers in the laboratory, counting the number of colonies of Campylobacter bacteria growing in round petri dishes can be like trying to count the number of raindrops on your car¡¯s windshield after a light rain.

Historically, agar--the gel material used to grow Campylobacter in tissue culture--has blood components, or charcoal, as ingredients. These components give the agar a dark color. Unfortunately, Campylobacter colonies are clear, often appearing as water droplets on the agar. Now ARS food technologist J. Eric Line of the Poultry Microbiological Safety Research Unit in Athens, Ga., has found a way to make the task a whole lot easier.

Line has found that exposing Campylobacter to low levels of a chemical called triphenyltetrazolium chloride (TTC) was not detrimental to bacterial growth, yet imparted a deep-red to magenta color to the Campylobacter colonies. The new agars used for Campylobacter growth are translucent, resulting in a contrast of dark colonies on a translucent background. This contrast makes it easier for researchers to isolate and count Campylobacter. The new technology also allows researchers to count the bacteria on light boxes or electronically.

Campylobacter is a food-borne pathogen found in numerous raw or mishandled foods, including poultry. This illness is characterized by symptoms such as diarrhea, cramping, abdominal pain and fever. The agar can be used in laboratories to conduct diagnostic testing.

Read more about this research in the October 2004 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture¡¯s chief scientific research agency.

Bionanotechnology Could Find Elusive Bacteria

By Carolyn Gramling
10/12/04

Source of Article: http://www.technewsworld.com/story/37257.html

The team now is working on tailoring the bioconjugated nanoparticles to detect multiple bacteria simultaneously, including health threats E. coli, Salmonella and Bacillus cereus spores, a toxin found in many foods. The ultrasensitive particles can be adapted to detect a wide variety of bacteria used as bioterrorism agents as well.

A team of University of Florida researchers has created tiny hybrid particles that can speedily root out even one isolated E. coli bacterium lurking in ground beef or provide a crucial early warning alarm for bacteria used as agents of bioterrorism and for early disease diagnosis.

The study will appear this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"Our focus is the development of a bionanotechnology that combines the strengths of nanotechnology and biochemistry to generate a new type of 'bionanomaterial,' which has some unique properties," said Weihong Tan, a UF Research Foundation professor of chemistry and associate director of UF's Center for Research at the Bio/Nano Interface. "Because of these properties, we're able to finish the detection of a single bacterium in 20 minutes."

Bionanotechnology is a new frontier of research that combines two seemingly incompatible materials -- the building blocks of life and synthetic structures -- at a tiny, molecular-sized scale.


'Nanobots' on Horizon
Nanotechnology works with objects that are on the order of 1 to 100 nanometers; a nanometer is one-billionth of a meter, about the size of several atoms. When combined with molecular biology, the possible applications of this nano-frontier are widespread and sound like the stuff of science fiction. Scientists currently are designing microscopic "nanobots," bioprobes and biosensors that, once implanted in the human body, could perform a number of medical duties, from delivering drugs to detecting malignant cells.

Tan's compound materials are called "bioconjugated nanoparticles," a prefix-heavy term that highlights their blended nature. "It's a very simple idea," said Tan. He takes antibodies -- molecules used to seek specific types of bacteria -- and attaches, or "conjugates," them to tiny dye-loaded particles.

"A bioconjugated particle is linked to the antibody, which can recognize a specific type of bacterium," Tan said. "Inside this particle, we put many fluorescent dye molecules in such a way that you can generate a very, very high signal." Once a particle finds the bacteria that it's designed to seek, it glows.

Takes One to Contaminate
Dye-labeled antibodies are commonly used to locate bacteria in a sample, but traditional methods are not very sensitive -- the glow from one antibody-linked dye molecule just isn't easy to see, and that can create potential health risks. "Sometimes one bacterium makes the difference," Tan said.

The secret to the UF team's super-sensitive method is in the sauce: The silica structure they use to bind the antibody-and-dye amalgam together allows each particle to hold thousands of dye molecules, rather than just one, making the fluorescent signal hundreds to thousands of times brighter.

Enhancing the fluorescent signal also eliminates a time-consuming part of the current bacteria detection process. Small amounts of bacteria are difficult to detect and to count how many bacteria are in a sample, scientists often have to "plate" it -- place the sample in a Petri dish and let the bacterial colonies grow for one to a few days before analysis. However, the bioconjugated nanoparticles found a single E. coli bacterium in a sample of ground beef in less than 20 minutes, from start to finish.

Could Help Fight Terrorism
A quicker analysis time is not only vital for early disease detection but also will be critical in combating bioterrorism, Tan said. "In situations when there is life and death, when you have to make a decision very quickly, our technology will really give you the quick decision." Analyzing a possible bioterrorist agent by traditional means could take days and would involve sealing off the entire area during that time, he said. "Instead, we can come back in 20 minutes and say either this is safe or there is a problem." Chad Mirkin, professor of chemistry at Northwestern University and director of Northwestern's Institute for Nanotechnology, said the new technique looks promising.

"This looks to be a pretty impressive way of detecting bacteria, and the obvious point of impact would be in the food safety industry," Mirkin said. "It looks quite good for pathogen detection in foods, which is a huge issue."

The research team includes former UF scientist Xiaojun Zhao, now an assistant professor at the University of North Dakota; UF graduate student Lisa Hilliard; postdoctoral researchers Shelly John Mechery, Yanping Wang and Rahul Bagwe; and Shouguang Jin, associate professor of molecular genetics and microbiology. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation, the Packard Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

The team now is working on tailoring the bioconjugated nanoparticles to detect multiple bacteria simultaneously, including health threats E. coli, Salmonella and Bacillus cereus spores, a toxin found in many foods. The ultrasensitive particles can be adapted to detect a wide variety of bacteria used as bioterrorism agents in food, clinical and environmental samples and can be used to detect disease in its earliest stages, Tan said.

"This is really the interface of biological science and nanotechnology," he said. "In situations when the very sensitive detection of bacteria or other biological reagents is the critical issue, I think our technology will have a clear edge."

FSIS safety and security guidelines for the transportation and distribution of meat, poultry,

Strategic Diagnostics Updates Adoption of Listeria Test Method

Source of Article: http://home.businesswire.com/
NEWARK, Del.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Oct. 14, 2004--Strategic Diagnostics Inc. (Nasdaq:SDIX) - a leading provider of antibody products and analytical test kits for the food safety and water quality markets, today issued an update on the adoption of its Listeria species testing method by a several major food producers, as part of an overall update on the development of its food pathogen testing business. "Food quality and microbiology departments are extremely rigorous when evaluating and validating the methods they are going to use in their day-to-day testing processes," commented A.J. McCardell, Business Development Manager. "Adoption of our test by major food production companies is a clear testimonial to the efficiency and effectiveness of the technology we have developed." "Working hand-in-hand with customers, we have been able to provide quantifiable improvements in customer efficiencies. In some cases these improvements have reduced the customers' total cost of ownership by as much as 50%. Customers have cited such benefits as reduced costs, improved accuracy, and enhanced workflow performance through the use of SDI's RapidChek Listeria system," said McCardell.

In October 2003, new regulations dramatically impacted the need for a better test method that could respond to the higher testing volumes food manufacturers were required to handle. In June of 2004, SDI launched its test for Listeria species. The RapidChek Listeria test is now one of the Company's fastest growing products.

Since its launch, 13 of the top 20 ranked meat processors have either become current customers or are in the evaluation phase of SDI's Listeria system. Two major customers, including one of the world's largest meat processors and a leading global supplier of shelf-stable foods, have joined the growing list of customers adopting the RapidChek Listeria screening system. The Company expects that annual Listeria system sales to each of these two customers will exceed $125,000.

The Company reported that it continues to see progress in both its E.Coli and Salmonella product lines. Ms. McCardell noted, "Our efforts to focus on both the technical and business needs of our customers has allowed us to differentiate with programs that are extremely cost effective, rapid and easy to use. The combination of our proprietary enrichment media and carefully developed immunoassays give our customers the specificity and sensitivity they need to ensure safety and enhance production efficiency."

Matt Knight, President and CEO, commented, "As we have previously discussed, our sales, marketing and R&D teams listened to the customer in developing the new Listeria program. The superior performance of the system and the clear cost in use advantages are resulting in accelerating adoption of the method as prospects move through their technical validation and comparison studies."

About Strategic Diagnostics Inc.

SDI is a leading provider of biotechnology-based diagnostic tests for a broad range of agricultural, industrial, and water treatment applications. Through its antibody business, Strategic BioSolutions, Strategic Diagnostics also provides antibody and immunoreagent research and development services. SDI's test kits are produced in a variety of formats suitable for field and laboratory use, offering advantages of accuracy, cost-effectiveness, portability, and rapid response. Trait Check(TM), GMO QuickCheck(TM), and GMO Check(TM) are pending trademarks for SDI.

This news release contains forward-looking statements reflecting SDI's current expectations. When used in this press release, the words "anticipate", "could", "enable", "estimate", "intend", "expect", "believe", "potential", "will", "should", "project" "plan" and similar expressions as they relate to SDI are intended to identify said forward-looking statements. Investors are cautioned that all forward-looking statements involve risks and uncertainties, which may cause actual results to differ from those anticipated by SDI at this time. Such risks and uncertainties include, without limitation, changes in demand for products, delays in product development, delays in market acceptance of new products, retention of customers and employees, adequate supply of raw materials, the successful integration and consolidation of the Maine production facilities, inability to obtain or delays in obtaining third party, including AOAC, or required government approvals, the ability to meet increased market demand, competition, protection of intellectual property, non-infringement of intellectual property, seasonality, and other factors more fully described in SDI's public filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

USDA Launches New Food Safety E-mail Subscription Service

Congressional and Public Affairs
(202) 720-9113
Autumn Canaday
WASHINGTON, Oct. 13, 2004 - The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) today launched a new e-mail subscription service. This service will give citizens automatic and customized access to selected food safety news and information.

"This Administration remains committed to protecting public health and this service will guarantee our customers quick access to food safety information," said Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Elsa Murano. "This service enables customers to choose the topics important to them and stay updated whether or not they visit this Web site regularly."

This service allows FSIS customers to sign up for 21 initial subscription options across eight categories. Options range from recalls to export information to regulations, directives and notices. Additional subscription options will be added based on demand. Customers can add or delete subscriptions themselves and will have the option to password protect their account. To subscribe, customers can visit the FSIS Web site at http://www.fsis.usda.gov or directly subscribe from http://www.govdocs.com/service/multi_subscribe.html?
code=USFSIS.

In January 2004, Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman started an ambitious program to enhance USDA's electronic government capabilities consistent with President Bush's management agenda. In January, USDA rolled out a redesigned Web site to improve functionality and ease. In April, USDA's FSIS launched its newly designed, customer-focused Web site to help customers find food safety information faster and more easily. The FSIS site features "Karen" the virtual FSIS representative, who instantly answers questions about safely storing, preparing and handling meat, poultry and egg products 24 hours a day from anywhere in the world. Access to this Web site also is available through My USDA.

The e-mail subscription service will help broadcast important information and keep the American public up-to-date on topics from food safety preparation and cooking to successful declines in foodborne pathogens.

OFFICIALS INAUGURATE FOOD SAFETY INSTITUTE OF THE AMERICAS

MIAMI, Oct. 13, 2004 - U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Secretary Jim Moseley and Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Elsa Murano, along with elected officials and dignitaries from throughout the Western Hemisphere, today inaugurated the Food Safety Institute of the Americas (FSIA) here to develop and promote effective food safety education and training programs throughout the Americas.

"This institute is the first of its kind and seeks to provide a cooperative, educational oriented relationship with the nations in the Western Hemisphere," Moseley said. "FSIA will address food safety and public health concerns by establishing and enhancing important networks among regulatory officials, researchers, public health officials, consumers, meat, poultry and egg processors and producers, as well as animal producers."

Murano said the establishment of the institute supports priorities established by Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman to spur the exchange of information and technology among countries around the world, which was the centerpiece of ministerial level meetings on science and technology held in Sacramento, Calif., in June 2003 and follow up meetings in May 2004 in Costa Rica and Burkino Faso in June 2004.

The grand opening activities began with a ceremonial signing of cooperative agreements between USDA, the University of Florida and Miami-Dade College, designed to reflect relationships between the cooperators to carry out educational or special studies programs to improve the safety and security of the food supply in the Americas. The University of Florida and Miami-Dade College are the first institutions to partner with FSIA in this endeavor. Public meetings to discuss the focus and mission of the FSIA will take place in the afternoon and will continue Thursday and Friday at the Radisson Hotel Miami, 1601 Biscayne Blvd. On Friday, Oct. 15, an open house will be held between 2 p.m. until 4 p.m. at the FSIA headquarters, the Claude Pepper Federal Building, 51 SW First Ave., Suite 1321.

USDA has worked to improve food safety programs in the Western Hemisphere by working with governments to raise the level of food safety activities and become active participants in international food standard setting bodies like the Codex Alimentarius Commission. In June, Murano signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Pan American Health Organization to improve the safety of meat and poultry products that are traded among the nations of the Western Hemisphere.

The establishment of FSIA also is an objective outlined in the recently released "Fulfilling the Vision: Initiatives in Protecting Public Health", Murano said. This document reviews recent successes and builds on the course the Bush Administration set last year to improve the prediction and response to food safety challenges and further reduce the rate of foodborne illness.

Food poisoning alert over salmonella in Spanish eggs

James Meikle and Giles Tremlett in Madrid
Friday October 15, 2004
The Guardian
Source of Article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/

Thousands of Britons have got food poisoning from salmonella in imported Spanish eggs, health officials said yesterday as they demanded that Madrid and the European commission took firmer action on safety.
In moves that could spark an international row, the officials said consumers should avoid buying eggs from Spain, and told caterers to do the same when supplying food to old or sick people or young children, and not to use eggs in raw or lightly cooked food.

An estimated 6,000 people may have fallen ill from the implicated salmonella strains over the past two years, although only about a third of these cases have been confirmed in laboratories.

The strains have been associated with the deaths of 15 people. More than 80 outbreaks of salmonella from the strains have been investigated since 2002 and "use by the catering trade of Spanish eggs" is said to be "a major source of this infection".

Health agencies have not pressed for an EU embargo, saying they preferred to work with the Spanish authorities, but they indicated that the commission might have to consider such action if the situation did not improve.

The Spanish authorities were surprised by the decision to issue a public warning about their eggs just a week before British officials were due to go to Madrid. They complained that agencies were needlessly scaring buyers across Europe and sending prices tumbling.

However, the British egg industry accused both the government and the commission of feet dragging. Andrew Parker, the chairman of the British Egg Industry Council, said: "It is ridiculous that two years after the problem with Spanish eggs became apparent no action has been taken. It is now time for the British government to ban Spanish eggs."

The industry here has cleaned up its act significantly since the notorious 1988 salmonella-in-eggs revelations of the former health minister Edwina Currie, and since the vaccinations of flocks. Producers in the British Lion programme, introduced six years ago to maintain higher standards, fear the continued use of Spanish imports will undermine confidence again.

Britons eat about 30m eggs a day, nearly 11bn a year, although imports are thought to account for less than a seventh of consumption.

Spain is the biggest single foreign supplier. Exact figures for Spain were not available yesterday but Spanish eggs are used almost exclusively by caterers.

Barry Evans of the Health Protection Agency said; "The continuing outbreaks of Salmonella enteritidis show the problem of contamination of Spanish eggs has not been resolved ... salmonella food poisoning is an unpleasant illness and though most people make a full recovery it can be extremely serious for vulnerable groups such as babies or people in poor health."

Judith Hilton, the head of microbiological safety at the Food Standards Agency, said since that January, Spanish eggs had to be marked with the letters ES.

Maria Neira, the head of the Spanish Food Safety Organisation, told the Guardian that Spain had not had a salmonella alert on eggs since January. She said salmonella was decreasing in Spain. "We are also exporting eggs to other places in Europe and not having any type of problem."

Elisa test to check toxins in groundnuts
Source of Article: http://news.newkerala.com/

[Technology India]: Patancheru (Andhra Pradesh), Oct 13 : An Elisa test normally used for HIV/AIDS diagnosis could be a cheap method to detect levels of aflatoxins, cancer-causing fungi in groundnuts, a global research body has found. "We have found that Elisa tests can be used effectively to find out levels of aflatoxins in groundnuts in one day, instead of the couple of weeks or more taken by commercial laboratories," said Farid Walliyar, principal scientist at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT).He added that the cost of an Elisa test is just a fraction of the cost of the tests being conducted now.

The problem of aflatoxins has in the past been a trade impediment for India, a major groundnut producer."The regulations on permissible levels of aflatoxins differ in various countries and can act as a barrier to trade," Walliyar told journalists during a visit to the premier institute here.ICRISAT has so far set up seven labs -- three in India and four in Africa -- charging Rs.50 for a sample test as against Rs.1,000 charged by commercial laboratories.The institute is now looking for industry investment to offer its technology for testing aflatoxins levels to meet export regulations.Due to improper storage or dampness, fungi sometimes grow on groundnuts, legumes and even food grains. Among the fungi, Aspergillus flavus is known to produce aflatoxins that can result in acute or chronic liver disease and cancer.According to Walliar, all groundnuts are exposed to this problem. It becomes a cause of concern only when the fungi develop and raise the level of toxins due to dampness."Aflatoxins are known to cause serious health problems not only for human beings but also animals. In the case of a contaminated animal, the milk and other by-products can also be harmful," said Walliyar. It is known to impair growth of children and causes childhood cirrhosis studies have found.The scientist clarified that once the groundnut or any other product is processed or the oil extracted it would not have toxins. However, the oil cake is not advised for consumption as animal feed.The knowledge of toxin levels is vital in the case of both dairy and poultry animals as it resulted in large-scale deaths of chicks and a drop in eggs production in Andhra Pradesh.There are no chemical or biological applications that farmers could put on their groundnut or peanut crops to protect them from aflatoxin.

"Fourteen aflatoxin resistant varieties developed at ICRISAT are currently being field tested by farmers in Anantapur near Bangalore," Walliyar disclosed.While the results are awaited, ICRISAT is keen to put up more labs in different countries to offer more affordable testing facilities to industry through Elisa test kits.Plans are also afoot to set up separate service centres at the Technology Innovation Centre within the sprawling 3,500 acres institute to cater to the trade demand for sample testing."We are keen to transfer the technology for use of Elisa test kits for testing the aflatoxins level in collaboration with industry as we don't want to operate all the labs ourselves," said Walliyar.The test will be used as the basis for designing practical kits for use at district level by the National Agricultural Research Services (NARS), NGOs, food quality professionals and health administrators to ensure safer foods and feeds.

--Indo-Asian News Service