Purdue University Department of Agronomy

Corny News Network

10 Feb 2010
URL: http://www.kingcorn.org/news/articles.10/MoldyGrain-0210.html

Safety first! Tips for safely handling moldy corn

Kiersten Wise, Charles Woloshuk, and William Field
Botany & Plant Pathology Dept and Ag. & Biological Engineering Dept, Purdue Univ.
West Lafayette, IN 47907-2054
Email address: kawise@purdue.edu, woloshuk@purdue.edu, and field@purdue.edu

Many grain bins across Indiana are filled with corn that has some level of damage due to preharvest fungal ear rots. Grain harvested from fields that were affected by Gibberella ear rot may also be contaminated with mycotoxins. Producers are primarily concerned with how to market and store this damaged grain, but there are also concerns about the potential human health hazards that may result from handling this grain.

Breathing grain dust is never healthy, and grain handlers should always wear protective masks when they work in grain bins, and when conducting operations that generate dust. Grain damaged by ear rots will have higher levels of dust and fines present, compared to good quality grain. Fungal spores produced by the ear rot fungi will also be in the grain dust. Fortunately, the fungus that causes Gibberella ear rot does not produce a lot of spores. However, there will certainly be spores of other molds in the grain dust. These spores can lead to allergic reactions, which may include flu-like symptoms, if workers do not take precautionary measures to protect themselves from exposure.

The mycotoxins vomitoxin (DON) and zearalenone, may be present in grain affected by Gibberella ear rot. These mycotoxins are not volatile molecules, so contaminated grain will not emit a toxic gas. However, the toxins will be in the small particles of corn dust and fines associated with the contaminated grain. If grain handlers are not wearing protective masks when working with this grain, they can breathe this contaminated dust into their lungs, and toxic effects may result from this exposure. Even if mycotoxins are not present in the grain dust, extensive exposure to dust may lead to eventual illness.

Simple safety procedures can be implemented to minimize exposure to grain dust and mold spores. When working with moldy grain, wear appropriate clothing such as long sleeves, pants, and gloves. A dust mask or respirator should also be worn to minimize inhalation risks. People who have a compromised immune system or respiratory ailments should avoid handling or working with moldy grain.

The Grain Quality Task Force at Purdue University has an excellent article reviewing grain handling and safety procedures for farm operators. Please contact Bill Field at field@purdue.edu for a copy of this article or download a PDF version here.

Related References

Wise, Kiersten, Charles Woloshuk, and R.L. (Bob) Nielsen. 2010. Choose Wisely……Avoid unprofitable strategies to manage moldy grain. Corny News Network, Purdue University. Online at http://www.kingcorn.org/news/articles.10/MoldyGrain-0208.html. [URL accessed Feb 2010].

Woloshuk, Charles and Kiersten Wise. 2009. Diseases of Corn: Diplodia Ear Rot. Purdue Extension publication BP-77-W. Online at http://www.extension.purdue.edu/extmedia/BP/BP-75-W.pdf. [URL accessed Feb 2010]

Woloshuk, Charles and Kiersten Wise. 2010. Diseases of Corn: Gibberella Ear Rot. Purdue Extension publication BP-77-W. Online at http://www.extension.purdue.edu/extmedia/BP/BP-77-W.pdf. [URL accessed Feb 2010]