The long-term goal of our research is to improve food safety by reducing the risk of exposure to OTA in cereal-based foods. The goal of this study is to investigate the chemical and toxicological fate of OTA during the processes of making oat-based infant cereals and to provide effective technical measures to reduce the risk of exposure to OTA among infants. We propose to achieve the goals by pursuing the specific objectives below. Optimization of processing conditions to maximize the reduction of OTA in infant cereals. Determination of the OTA and its degradation products formed during the processing by LC-MS/MS with mass balance approach. Determination of residual toxicity of OTA and its degradation products in the infant cereals by rat feeding trials.
Oats are considered to be one of the healthiest cereal food and the consumer demand for oats and oat-based products have steadily increased over the years. This trend may be desirable in promoting public health. However, recent surveys conducted in the United States have found high levels and incidences of ochratoxin A (OTA), a possible human carcinogen, in oat-based cereal products particularly in infant cereals. Several toxigenic fungi in the genus Aspergillus and Penicillium are known to contaminate agricultural crops and produce OTA. This potent mycotoxin has been regulated in other countries but no regulation or guideline for OTA in foods has been set in the United States. Most of the infant cereals are processed by using either indirect- or direct-steam heating, or extrusion cooking processes. Although processing could help reduce OTA, knowledge about the chemical transformation and residual toxicity of OTA in infant cereals as affected by commonly-used processing technologies has not been established. We propose to investigate the fate of OTA during the processing of oats using chemical analysis and toxicological evaluation of OTA and the degradation products formed. The proposed research will provide important data on the threat of OTA contamination in oat-based infant cereals and effective control strategies. This project fits in the Program Area 1, Improving Food Safety (Priority Code - A1331) by addressing identification and characterization of emerging and under-researched foodborne hazards to reduce the risk of OTA exposure of infants, a high-risk population.