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Fields & Applications Food, Beverage & Agriculture, Sample Preparation, Cannabis Testing

Confronting Cannabis’ Mycotoxin Maze

sponsored by Knauer

The presence of mycotoxins, regardless of the matrix, can cause adverse health effects in humans and animals – ranging from gastrointestinal and kidney diseases to immunodef iciency and cancer. Contamination can occur in a variety of food commodities, animal feed, crops, as well as herbal medicines and other natural pharmaceutical products. And with the increasing legalization of cannabis and hemp products, mycotoxin testing is becoming increasingly important in the cannabis industry.

To find out how to overcome the analytical and regulatory challenges associated with mycotoxin testing – with a focus on cannabis products – we spoke with Juliane Kramer, Senior Application Specialist at KNAUER.

Can you give me an overview of the regulatory landscape for mycotoxin testing?

There is a lack of regulatory harmonization for mycotoxin testing – each country or region typically has its own regulatory framework. But there are also international standards that serve as a reference for national regulations and provide guidance on test methods and limits. These regulations may include allowable limits for specific mycotoxins in various commodities, including food, feed, and sometimes cannabis or hemp products – there are no specific regulations for cannabis and its products in the EU, for example, but the limits for mycotoxins in food and animal feed are used as a guideline.

What are some of the analytical methods used in mycotoxin testing for cannabis products?

At present, the routine methods used to ensure the quality and safety of cannabis products are underdeveloped compared with those used in the food and pharmaceutical industries. Indeed, developing a method that is fast, robust, but also simple can be a quest! In the context of cannabis, mycotoxin testing typically involves the detection and quantification of specific mycotoxins, such as aflatoxins (G2, G1, B2, B1) and ochratoxin A. Samples may be analyzed by HPLC or ELISA, for example. For HPLC determination, fluorescence detection (FLD) or mass spectrometry (MS) is usually chosen.

How important is sample preparation for mycotoxin testing?

Sample preparation is a critical step in mycotoxin testing because it directly affects the accuracy and reliability of the results. Sample preparation for cannabis is especially challenging because the matrix composition is complex and contains many compounds from different classes in addition to the cannabinoids, including terpenes, hydrocarbons, and others at various concentrations. Matrices range from fresh marijuana plant material to medicinal oils and ointments. Cannabis materials embedded in edible matrices, including baked goods and beverages, are also appearing on the commercial market.

In addition to sample complexity, we must also consider homogeneity, matrix effects, sample size/representativeness, and extraction efficiency. Depending on the analyte and sample matrix, different extraction techniques are used; for example, solvent-based extraction, solid-phase extraction (SPE) or QuEChERS (Quick, Easy, Cheap, Effective, Rugged, and Safe).

How important is customization – and how can KNAUER help? 

Customization in mycotoxin testing is essential because different industries have unique requirements and challenges. KNAUER can assist in the development and optimization of analytical methods for mycotoxin testing in different matrices by selecting appropriate sample preparation techniques, optimizing instrument parameters, and selecting the most appropriate detection method. In addition, our customized application support ensures that customers receive support specific to their industry and testing requirements. We also offer a range of advanced analytical instruments that can be tailored to meet industryspecific needs. These instruments can include high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) systems, mass spectrometers, and related accessories, such as custom switching valves. Customized instrument configurations can be designed to meet the unique requirements of mycotoxin analysis in different industries.

Please tell me about KNAUER’s LC solutions for mycotoxin quality control… 

KNAUER offers solutions that are well suited for mycotoxin quality control, including applications in the cannabis industry. KNAUER's LC systems, such as the AZURA® HPLC/UHPLC systems, are designed to provide selectivity, robustness, and ease of use for mycotoxin analysis. The HPLC systems can be combined with various detection technologies, including fluorescence detectors and triple quadrupole mass spectrometry, for the precise identification and quantification of target compounds in cannabis samples. We develop applications for the detection of target mycotoxins, even at concentrations below 20 ppb, which are specified in most regulations. In spiked hemp flour samples, we have even detected mycotoxins down to 0.5–2.0 ppb.

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