Cereal Grains

When a cereal maker, such as General Mills or Kellogg's, produces cereal, it seeks to produce a product that is free of contamination and consistent in appearance, aroma, texture, and taste from box to box. To accomplish this objective, it executes purchase contracts with suppliers (usually large processors, such as Cargill, Louis Dreyfus, Archer Daniels Midland, and ConAgra) and specifies a maximum contaminant level for given contaminants, such as 4 parts per million (ppm) for vom-itoxin, a mycotoxin that can affect flavors in foods and baking quality, in a five-car composite sample. (The profit margins on grain sales are measured in pennies, so testing must be reliable yet affordable; testing strategies may involve composite samples drawn from several hopper carloads.)

Before a train can pull out of the grain elevator's siding, the supplier will conduct testing to satisfy the buyer of the grain's quality. If an initial composite sample does not pass inspection, the elevator operator may reblend the load and try again or may then test individual hopper cars to find the source of the problem. If a given hopper carload fails inspection, the operator must empty and reload the car and test again (Stewart, 2005). The processor generally tests samples for the presence of bacteria, mold, fungal infestations, spores, and mycotoxins, as well as moisture, ash, fiber, protein, and carbohydrate content. Figure 10.1 is an example of a test request form used to process samples.

The processor may contract this work to a private laboratory, which will maintain these data by using a laboratory information management system (Chapter 8) as well as send the data to its client. Neither client nor laboratory shares these data with any government agency routinely. The potential value of the data to biosurveillance derives from our ability to prevent the distribution of contaminated grain, the consumption of which could lead to a range of consequences; among them is the real-life example of "St. Anthony's fire,'' the nightmarish scenario in the small village France described early in the chapter.

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