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Ochratoxin A in Coffee

Additional Ochratoxin A Assay Information

The European Union (EU) requires testing of all imported coffee for Ochratoxin A

Helica Biosystems is proud to announce the availability of specific ELISA for Ochratoxin A in our proprietary "Low Matrix" format. Ochratoxin A is produced by the fungi, Aspergillus and Penicillium (including Aspergillus ochraceus). Under a perfect storm of moisture and temperature conditions during storage and drying, it finds its way into green coffee beans. It's also preserved during the roasting process and known to cause kidney damage and possibly cancer.

An assessment of dietary intake of Ochratoxin A by the population of EU member States (Reports of Experts Participating in Task 3.2.7 January 2002) indicated that while the major human bioburden for this important toxin is derived from contaminated cereal products, a significant contribution might also be made by coffee and cocoa products. As a result, the maximum permitted levels of OTA were set by the EU in the 5-10 parts per billion (ppb) range for roast and instant coffees.

What can be done about reducing the Ocharatoxin A in burden in coffee?

At the request of the International Coffee Organization, which represents coffee exporting and importing countries, and the UN's Common Fund for Commodities, Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) launched in 2001 a project for "enhancement of coffee quality through the prevention of mold formation (Source: FAO Agriculture and Consumer Protection Dept, Spotlight 2006). Over 30 coffee growing nations have adapted the FAO program designed to control mold formation and implement prevention strategies for primary processing, drying, handling and storage. A 2006 report chronicles the success of these strategies in reducing the levels of ochratoxin A exported. Monitoring ochratoxin A levels throughout the value chain would also supplement the hygienic measures recommended by the FAO and fulfill the tolerable level required by EU nations.

Health Effects of ochratoxin A

Ochratoxin A is a cause of kidney disease, birth defects, cancer and may also have toxic effects on the immune system. Due to its toxicity to kidneys, ochratoxin A has been regarded as an important factor for human endemic nephropathy in the Balkan countries (source: Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives, 2001). Another serious disease is porcine nephropathy affecting pigs consuming feed contaminated with ochratoxin A. Because of its strong ability to bind to blood proteins, ochratoxin A may also remain in human blood for a long period.

To avert such assaults on our health, it is important to monitor the level of ochratoxin A in coffee beans from the plantation to the coffee cup. As discussed above, the EU has set acceptable limits.

Economic Damage due to ochratoxin A

Over 50 developing countries grow coffee earning over US$20 billion per year, the second largest source of export revenue after oil. For some countries, coffee comprises up to 3/4 of export income, and contamination of such an important product by ochratoxin A can incur untold damage to local economies if left uncontrolled. As discussed above, the threat of OTA to coffee beans and human health, as well as hygienic and regulatory control measures have been addressed.

An expert economic analysis that appeared on the journal Food Control (2003, vol 14) reports a worldwide rejection rate of 3% due to ochratoxin A contamination and warns that this can result in a loss of 300 million (over $470 million) per year. The report estimates that some countries may lose one quarter of their export income and six countries will lose 5% to 10% of total export earnings, not just coffee, thus making a strong case for ochratoxin A prevention measures instead of simply setting regulatory limits. The success of strategic prevention measures launched by the FAO is discussed above

An ounce of prevention with another ounce of regulatory monitoring can drastically reduce this economic damage. Monitoring of ochratoxin A levels can be performed using simple laboratory tests.


In response, at Helica Biosystems, Inc., we have developed a simple, user-friendly ELISA-based test. This simple, sensitive, and valuable ELISA is suitable for the quantitative measurement of ochratoxin A in green, roasted, and instant coffee, cocoa powder and cocoa butter in the 1-20 ppb range and available to growers, distributors, roasters, and quality control laboratories.
Additional Ochratoxin A Assay Information



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