Fargo, N.D. — Charlene Wolf-Hall, NDSU professor of veterinary and microbiological sciences and assistant dean for the Graduate School, is part of a collaborative team that has been awarded a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agriculture and Food Research Initiative for addressing critical and emerging food safety issues.
The title of the five-year project is "Risk Assessment and Intervention Strategies for the Emerging Food Safety Threat of Ochratoxin in the United States." Other scientists involved with the project include Dojin Ryu from Texas Women's University, Jack Cappozzo from the National Center for Food Safety and Technology at the Illinois Institute of Technology, Lauren Jackson from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Jeffrey Palumbo from the Western Regional Research Center of the USDA Agricultural Research Service, Jayne Stratton and Andreia Bianchini from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln and Felicia Wu from the University of Pittsburg.
According to Wolf-Hall, several toxigenic fungi in the genera Aspergillus and Penicillium are known to contaminate agricultural crops and produce ochratoxin A (OTA), a possible human carcinogen. OTA has been associated with nephropathic diseases in animals and humans, and its nephrotoxic, hepatotoxic, immunosuppressive, mutagenic and teratogenic potency has been shown in animal studies. Due to diverse growth characteristics, the toxigenic fungi and OTA have been found in an exceptionally wide variety of agricultural commodities worldwide, including cereal grains, nuts, dried fruits, spices, meat, milk and many processed foods made from these commodities such as wine, beer, infant formula and baby foods. Most studies of OTA in food have been conducted in European countries where OTA levels are regulated. Currently, no regulation for OTA in foods has been set in the U.S. and there is an urgent need for up-to-date information on the incidence and levels of OTA due to international trade and consumer demand.
The project will include conducting a comprehensive national survey followed by health risk assessment of foodborne OTA to the general public and high-risk populations, and will investigate effective strategies to reduce exposure to OTA.