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Friendly Farm-Based Fungi Protect Peanuts

By Jill Lee
October 21, 1998

A way to use helpful fungi to reduce aflatoxin contamination of peanuts--while the crop is still on the farm--has been discovered by U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists here.

Mold strains of Aspergillus flavus and A. parasiticus often produce aflatoxin and CPA, two potential food contaminants. But scientists at USDA's Agricultural Research Service found benign strains of these molds that produce neither compound.

Putting good molds in the soil takes up fungal "parking spaces" that could be used by malevolent molds, according to the scientists, with ARS' National Peanut Research Laboratory in Dawson.

“The 'good' mold mix is combined with a delivery system that offers protection for crops in the field before harvest,” said laboratory director Richard J. Cole.

ARS has applied for patent protection on the mold mixture, which is available for licensing.

The Food and Drug Administration has mandated that aflatoxin content in peanut products must be less than 20 parts per billion. One part per billion is equal to a drop of water in a 21,700-gallon swimming pool. International aflatoxin levels are set much lower, typically with a range of 0 to 4 parts per billion.

At the 1987 National Peanut Council Quality Task Force, industry leaders identified aflatoxin contamination as their number one problem. The U.S. peanut industry has set a goal to ensure aflatoxin-free peanuts by the year 2000.

Scientific contact: Richard Cole, director, ARS National Peanut Research Laboratory, Dawson, Ga., phone (912) 995-7404, fax (912) 995-7416, rcole@asrr.arsusda.gov

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