Bread and grain

Ergot Alkaloids Detected in Rye and Barley Flour in Europe

Ergot alkaloids are produced by a group of fungi known as the Claviceps species, the most significant being the C. purpurea. Exposure to ergot alkaloids can cause a variety of adverse effects in humans such as muscle spasms, fever and hallucinations. Animals exposed to ergot contaminated feed can experience weight loss, poor reproduction and loss of lower limbs resulting in production losses.


Barley flour from the Netherlands distributed to France, Belgium and Ireland was found to have exceeded the EU regulated Maximum Residue Levels (MRL) for ergot alkaloids (150 µg/kg), with 217 µg/kg detected during sampling. The flour was subsequently withdrawn from the market.


Current EU regulations allow for a higher MRL of 500 µg/kg of ergot alkaloids in rye milling and finished products. This is because rye has a higher risk of ergot contamination than other cereal species. Analytical testing of ergot alkaloids in the rye showed a serious risk as nearly three times over the MRL was present in the rye flour which originated from Germany. The flour was distributed to Belgium and the Netherlands and then was recalled.


Ergot Alkaloid regulations are set to become even stricter in 2024, with the MRL being reduced from the current 500 µg/kg to 250 µg/kg in rye flour. Randox Food Diagnostics developed the Ergot Alkaloids ELISA, which is the only commercially available kit on the market compliant with the lowest proposed maximum levels mandated by Commission Regulation (EU) 2021/1399, applicable from January 1st 2022. This includes the total of 12 main ergot alkaloids for cereal-based feed, rye, wheat, oats, barley, spelt and their milling products.


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