What is zearalenone?
Zearalenone is a mycotoxin produced by several strains of fusarium, a fungus that contaminates a variety of grains including corn, wheat, barley, rice, and oats.
Zearalenone causes reproductive disorders of farm animals, infertility, abortion, and other breeding problems, especially in swine. It can cause hyperoestrogenic syndromes in humans.
Zearalenone is often identified alongside deoxynivalenol (DON). It is seen increasingly in aquaculture, resulting from the growing use of grain, especially wheat, as the protein source in fish food. As with other mycotoxins, zearalenone can harm production animals and humans once it gets into the food and feed supply.
What are the harmful effects of zearalenone?
In animals and humans, zearalenone mimics the reproductive hormone estrogen. Levels as low as 1 ppm can cause damage to the reproductive system of swine.
Higher levels of zearalenone can cause birth defects, interruption of reproductive cycles and even atrophy of sexual organs leading to a complete decline of reproductive ability.
Zearalenone’s effects in other animals are not as catastrophic as they are in swine. Poultry and cattle only show symptoms after prolonged ingestion of zearalenone and lower levels of contamination do not transfer to milk and urine. High dietary concentrations (>20–30 ppm) produce infertility in cattle and sheep.
In humans, zearalenone can cause central precocious puberty (CPP), which results in the premature development of puberty in children. CPP usually affects girls more than boys and has been linked to higher levels of exposure to zearalenone.
Zearalenone in crops, food and animal feed are regulated through the world. In the United States, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) monitor zearalenone levels.
Why should you test for zearalenone?
Zearalenone testing detects contamination that, at its most serious, could lead to significant health risks to the reproductive systems of both production animals and humans.
Early detection of zearalenone in the field and in storage is important because it remains stable in high temperatures and can survive basic food processing. In production animals, zearalenone contamination in grain in the animal feed supply can lead to reduced food intake and thereby lower weight gain and productivity.
In addition, testing for zearalenone helps to protect crop quality and reduces risk to commodity prices. Testing also secures compliance with export regulations.
Who should do zearalenone testing?
Risk factors for zearalenone are wide ranging and not readily evident, which necessitates rigorous zearalenone testing by grain farmers, grain mills, and grain handlers.
Growth of zearalenone is stimulated during a drop in temperature. Humidity is a catalyst for growth, but if moisture levels drop down below 15%, then zearalenone stops growing. Nonetheless, grains contaminated with zearalenone will continue to grow even after they are dried below 15% if the moisture levels of storage facilities are not well maintained.
The conditions in which zearalenone appear are wide ranging:
- Zearalenone prospers in a wide variety of climates
- Zearalenone thrives in the field at a temperature between 65 to 85 F
- High temperatures and humidity do not negatively affect zearalenone
- Fusarium stops producing zearalenone at a moisture level under 15%
Testing for Zearalenone
How to Test for Zearalenone
Three primary methods are available for mycotoxin analysis. The HPLC method for mycotoxin detection is time-consuming, and both HPLC and ELISA methods require expensive laboratory equipment. LFD testing strips are a simple, fast and cost-effective way to perform a mycotoxin test with quantitative or qualitative results. Only with proven and certified mycotoxin testing technology can users make objective, real-time decisions that meet regulation standards and mitigate the risks of lost productivity and health due to zearalenone contamination.