The future of mass spectrometry in mycotoxin analysis

How tech developments have made possible the detection of large numbers of targets in a single run. What we are still missing for quantitative detection by multi-class methods. The introduction of ion mobility in high-resolution mass spectrometry (HRMS). The need for shared databases.


The (r)evolution of analytical methods over the last two decades has been enormous. Thanks to technological improvements and the flexibility of a high-throughput confirmatory approach, mass spectrometry (MS) has developed quickly, eventually becoming the dominant method in the instrumental detection of food contaminants.  

Today, tandem MS is an affordable technology, offering a robust, sensitive, and accurate option that meets the requirements for trace contaminant detection. Tandem MS methods are highly sensitive and can be applied to a wide range of sample types, including typical ingredients and finished products. Tandem MS is the current gold standard for routine food safety control, primarily because it offers analytic performance that easily meets quality criteria required by law (EU Regulation No 882/2004/EC; ISO/IEC 17025:2005; Thompson et al. 2002).  

The selectivity and sensitivity required by regulation is ensured through the multiple reaction monitoring (MRM) mode, which provides analyte confirmation by recording both quantitative and qualitative ion transitions.  

At the same time, interest in the application of high-resolution mass spectrometry (HRMS) in the food safety sector is growing rapidly, primarily as a core analytical technique for many omics applications. For targeted analysis, HRMS is becoming increasingly popular as well, especially given the growing affordability of the instrumentation. The improved selectivity due to high resolution in combination with the fast generation of product ion spectra can reduce the number of ambiguous results and streamline peak detection. However, a gap between HRMS and MS/MS remains for most analytes when it comes to sensitivity, preventing HRMS from dominating the routine analysis market.    


From single mycotoxin to multi-class methods 

While the official control methods for mycotoxins are still developed using a mycotoxin(s)-regulated matrix approach, to ensure the best accuracy and sensitivity and to match the criteria for compliance, the trend over the past decade has been towards the development of multi-toxin methods targeting many chemically diverse compounds. This trend was prompted by the urgent need to better understand not only the occurrence of unregulated mycotoxins but also of regulated mycotoxins in unregulated matrices.  

A wider collection of occurrence data allowed the scientific community to gain insight into the effects of climate change on mycotoxin accumulation and to unveil the co-occurrence of multiple mycotoxins in many food commodities. Based on the recent literature and following the European Food Safety Authority guidelines (EFSA Scientific Committee 2019), the combined risk posed by co-exposure to multiple contaminants, even at low doses, is significantly higher than the risk assessed for single contaminants.  

The growing body of evidence of the combined toxicity of multiple contaminants has caught the interest of food policymakers and prompted the recent expansion of multi-analyte protocols that can detect different groups of contaminants in the s

Download content now