Cacao contamination under watch

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The Philippine Center for Postharvest Development and Mechanization (PhilMech) is taking proactive steps to avoid Ochratoxin A (OTA) contamination on locally grown and harvested cacao beans and cacao-based products.

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PhilMech Executive Director Rex Bingabing said the agency is undertaking a study on the occurrence and effects of OTA on cacao beans and products, with the aim of developing post-harvest technology to avoid the spread of OTA that can trigger the formation of fungi in cacao beans and products.

“Samplings of cacao beans and processed cacao were done in four regions to find out if there is an occurrence of OTA. What we want to find out is how widespread the occurrence of OTA is,” he said.

Cacao is currently promoted as one of the country’s agriculture exports or as raw material to the top makers of chocolate products in the world.

PhilMech believes dealing with the OTA contamination on cacao beans and products this early while there is still no widespread contanimation will help make the country’s cacao exports more competitive. But the agency said the need for mechanical dryers for cacao beans has to be addressed at the soonest time possible to avoid OTA contamination that can trigger fungi formation.

The sampling of beans and processed cacao products has been accomplished in Regions 7 (Cebu and Bohol), 10 (Cagayan de Oro, Bukidnon, Misamis Oriental amd Camiguin Island), Caraga Region (Butuan City and Bayugan City) and 11 (Davao City, Davao del Norte and Davao del Sur).

The cacao beans that were collected during the mid-year sampling were free from OTA contamination. However, about 40 percent of the samples collected during the peak season (November and January) were contaminated with OTA but at levels below two parts per billion (ppb), which is still the acceptable level. Majority of the beans collected were OTA free.

However, 80 percent of the beans collected had a moisture level of 7.5 percent, which is unsafe for long storage periods. This condition can trigger OTA contamination above the limit of 2 ppb if not properly managed.

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