Simple Joys: Giving Thanks in a New World

By November 23, 2020

There’s a longstanding debate among historians about whether America’s first Thanksgiving feast at Plymouth Colony in fall 1621 included turkey. Yet, today there’s no disputing that this bird has become a symbol and centerpiece of America’s Thanksgiving celebrations. This Thanksgiving Day staple has also played a significant role in food safety by enabling the discovery and subsequent monitoring methods for aflatoxins.

So, why DO we eat turkey on Thanksgiving?

Following their first successful corn harvest, the Pilgrims of America’s first permanent settlement and their Wampanoag Tribe allies celebrated a feast which lasted multiple days.  Two centuries later, after celebrating unofficially for several years, President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a nationwide holiday in 1863. Across the country, Americans adopted President Lincoln’s menu, which included his favorite poultry, roast turkey.

Today, more than 230 million turkeys are produced in the U.S. each year, with 46 million consumed on Thanksgiving Day, an additional 22 million at Christmas and 19 million for Easter.  That’s a lot of turkey.

Did you know?

  • The typical turkey has 3,500 feathers
  • It takes 75-80 pounds of feed to raise a 30-pound turkey
  • Turkeys were domesticated more than 2,000 years ago in Central America

The Turkey Connection – Discovery of an Important Food Safety Risk

Turkey is more than just a Thanksgiving Day favorite … It has also significantly contributed to food safety by enabling the discovery and subsequent monitoring methods for aflatoxins. In 1960, around 100,000 young turkey poults were afflicted with an unknown disease. A flurry of research resulted in the discovery of the presence of Aspegillus molds in imported peanut/groundnut meal, a common poultry feed ingredient selected for its high-quality protein and fat content.

Over time, scientists discovered that the Aspergillus mold had deposited chemical metabolites (now known as aflatoxins). This pervasive food and feed contaminant and superpotent liver and kidney toxin resulted in an epidemic of acute toxicos, which caused the illness and mortality in this large flock of turkey poults. While the loss of those turkey poults was significant and painfully costly to the producer, it has resulted in one of the most important food safety breakthroughs of the past century.

We now know that aflatoxins occur in a wide range of field, orchard and vine grown crops – and recent studies show that aflatoxin often occurs with other mycotoxins in the same sample, creating the need for analytical approaches which allow screening for multiple toxins simultaneously.

Safeguarding Raw Materials, Verifying Product Quality

Increasingly, mycotoxin monitoring is moving ‘upstream’, closer to raw materials harvest, storage and processing. To equip these operations for rapid detection requires a different set of tools than a laboratory might use for mycotoxin testing. Rapid methods, such as VICAM’s AQUA strip tests, enable the detection of up to six mycotoxins in just 10 minutes – giving quality managers the opportunity to segregate, redirect or reject shipments that might contaminate acceptable raw materials or processing products already in house.

To learn more about multi-mycotoxin monitoring for non-laboratory environments, read and download our white paper, The Need for Speed: All-in-One Extraction Method Opens the Way to Faster Time-to-Results for Food and Feed Industry Stakeholders