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The foods that could cause you a Christmas crisis - and how R-Biopharm Rhône helps make the celebrations safe
Christmas is nearly upon us once again and larders across the UK are being stocked with a cornucopia of foodie goodies and delicious drinks to help the nation's party people to celebrate in sumptuous style
But unbeknownst to most folk who will relax onto a post-prandial sofa after a traditional lunch to watch the Queen's broadcast, there are dangers lurking in many of the most popular ingredients of the festive feast.
Nuts, figs, raisins - even the flour in a mince pie or the almonds in the marzipan icing of the Christmas cake could contain potentially lethal toxins which could, if not detected, cause irreversible damage.
The first line of defence against these deadly mycotoxins - that is, poisons in fungi or moulds - are the products made by companies such as R-Biopharm Rhône, the manufacturer and Scotland's biggest exporter of diagnostic test kits.
The company, which is based in the West of Scotland Science Park in Glasgow, has a team of 50 making tests which it sells to global food manufacturing businesses.
It has just had its best year ever in the specialist business but, as technical specialist Martin Gallagher pointed out, Christmas could be a very different kettle of fish if food production companies were not continually on their guard and comprehensively testing to make sure our food is safe.
He said: "Mycotoxins could be present in many festive foods - nuts, figs, raisins, apples and pears, the cinnamon in mulled wine, the Christmas turkey, the flour in mince pies, the almonds in marzipan as well as tea, coffee and cocoa."
"European regulations lay down very strict limits for the amount of mycotoxins which are permissible in food and drink and R-Biopharm Rhône's diagnostic kits allow the industry to make sure that nothing is allowed onto the supermarket shelves which exceeds these limits."
Martin pointed out that there are two schools of thought about how mycotoxins affect humans. Some believe that even a microscopic amount can trigger cancer, while others believe that longer-term exposure is needed before damage occurs.
He said: "There is evidence that in some Third World countries, where diets are predominantly nuts and fruits, cancers are endemic, with nearly 33% of pancreatic cancers, for instance, being caused by mycotoxins.
"Moulds tend to grow in hot, humid conditions and that is particularly problematic for food production even in advanced countries such as China, Australia and the US."
The Glasgow company has been making test kits since it was founded 25 years ago as a joint venture between Strathclyde University and Rhône-Poulenc. It was taken over by German clinical diagnostics company R-Biopharm AG in 2002.
It operates to astonishing degrees of accuracy, working in parts per billion and now parts per trillion. The accuracy is vital, since the toxins the kits are detecting can have a devastating impact on the human body.
Ochratoxin, found in cereals, dried fruit, coffee, wine and spices, causes kidney cancer. Aflotoxin, one of the most virulent toxins, causes liver cancer. Fumonisin, derived from a common grain mould, causes throat cancer.
Martin Gallagher said: "Thanks, however, to the food testing regime in the UK, which is one of the strictest in the world, it is fair to say that everyone can safely enjoy a delicious Christmas dinner without worrying about anything other than a bit of indigestion."
For further information, contact Simon Bevis, managing director, R-Biopharm Rhône Ltd., Block 10, Todd Campus, West of Scotland Science Park, Acre Road, Glasgow, Scotland G20 0XA. Tel: +44 (0) 141 945 2924. Fax: +44 (0) 141 945 2925. Email: email@example.com. www.r-biopharmrhone.com