EA pattern seems to depend on many different factors (crop, epimerisation during processing and/or analysis), said the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
The presence of ergot sclerotia is a good indicator for presence of EAs in grain samples but absence does not exclude their presence.
EAs are mycotoxins produced by several species of fungi in the genus Claviceps. In Europe, Claviceps purpurea is the most widespread and it affects cereals such as rye, wheat, triticale, barley, millets and oats.
Estimating chronic and acute dietary exposure
For high consumers, a single consumption of ‘Mixed wheat and rye bread and rolls’ can lead to acute exposure estimates up to 0.74 (95% CI = 0.59-0.93) μg/kg bw per day and up to 0.64 (95% CI = 0.60-0.69) μg/kg bw per day in the case of ‘Rye bread and rolls’.
The European Commission asked the EFSA Evidence Management Unit (DATA unit) to estimate chronic and acute dietary exposure to EAs in humans and animals.
The three-year study on ergot alkaloids and sclerotia by the Croatian Food Agency (HAH) from 2014 to 2016 analysed 80 samples.
Ergot sclerotia were found in 36% with an average content of 0.0242g/kg and a maximum of 0.25g/kg - below the maximum permitted levels of 0.5g/kg.
At least one of ergot alkaloid was quantified in 62% and a maximum recorded concentration of 1,816 mg/kg in a rye sample.
The highest concentration in the final product was in rye and wheat bread at 80.6mg/kg. It was concluded that a person of 70kg will be at risk of acute toxicity if they ate more than 870g of this foodstuff and at risk of chronic toxicity if they would daily eat more than 520g.
Regarding tolerable daily intake (TDI) of 0.6 mg/kg, it was concluded a person of 70kg could daily eat over 1,240g of bread and rolls with average concentration of ergot alkaloids and over 610g with high concentration (on the 95th percentile) to reach full TDI.
EFSA said efforts should continue to collect analytical data on EAs in relevant food and feed commodities with special attention on processed foods.
A 2012 opinion concluded the available data did not indicate a health concern for any population subgroup.
For food, Commission Regulation (EU) 2015/1940 established a maximum level of 0.5 g/kg of ergot sclerotia for unprocessed cereals with the exception of corn and rice for human consumption.
A total of 4,528 food samples and 654 feed plus 1,235 on grains initially reported as ‘Grain as crops’, were available.
Ergot alkaloid levels in food samples
In 97% of samples, the analysis included all 12 main C.purpurea EAs: ergometrine, ergosine, ergocornine, ergotamine, ergocristine, ergocryptine (α- and β-isomers) and corresponding –inine (S)-epimers.
Total content of EAs in each sample was estimated using the reported concentrations for each of the individual alkaloids.
Food samples were collected between 2011-16 in 15 European countries, with more than 50% from the Netherlands and around 28% from Germany.
The highest levels were in raw agricultural or minimally processed commodities (e.g. ‘Rye milling products, 198-239 μg/kg, lower bound (LB)–upper bound (UB), n=394).
In processed foods, the highest levels were found in ‘Mixed wheat and rye bread and rolls’ (33-82 μg/kg, n=201), ‘Rye bread and rolls’ (29-67 μg/kg, n=181) and ‘Rye flakes’ (35-83 μg/kg, n=15), always for LB–UB scenarios.
In more than three quarters of food samples (3,463) all EAs analysed were unquantified.
Among the analytical results reported as left-censored, 74% were below the limit of quantification (LOQ) and the rest below the limit of detection (LOD). Only 11% of analytical results were quantified.
The highest average contributors to total concentration in each food sample were ergotamine (18%), ergocristine (15%), ergosine (12%) and ergometrine (11%).
During processing, the ratio between the average contribution of the epimeric forms (-ine and -inine) shifts towards the –inine (S)-epimers (from 23.1% to 41.3%).
The analytical method was liquid chromatography (LC) predominantly with tandem mass spectrometry (MS/MS) as detection method. Fluorescence detection (FD) was used in a few cases.
In humans, mean chronic dietary exposure was highest in ‘Toddlers’ and ‘Other children’ with maximum UB estimates of 0.47 and 0.46 μg/kg bw per day, respectively.
Chronic dietary exposure in the young population (‘Infants’, ‘Toddlers’ and ‘Other children’) was 2-3 times higher than that estimated for the adults (‘Adults’, ‘Elderly’ and ‘Very elderly’).