Development of a multi-target metod for the analysis of plant toxins in food supplements

Project Details


Main research question/goal
The food supplement sector is one of the fastest growing sectors in the food industry. This is mainly due to the increasing awareness for public health and disease prevention, an increase of certain population groups (e.g. elderly, immunosuppressed people, etc.) and globalization (e.g. internet trade). However, food supplements may contain plant compounds that are either toxic and/or interfere with medicines or therapeutic treatments.

Currently, standardized, specific and sensitive detection methods for a myriad of such plant toxins in food supplements are lacking. In addition, the plant toxins relevant for food supplements must be prioritized. This ANAPLANTOX research project addresses both challenges.

Research approach
To prioritize the list of plant toxins in food supplements, we start by investigating which toxins are relevant within the Belgian legal context. We create a database based on available data on toxicology, prevalence and, where possible, consumption. Subsequently, we optimize a tandem liquid chromatographic – tandem mass spectrometric (LC-MS/MS) method to specifically and sensitively detect/quantify several plant toxins in different food supplement matrices (powders, tablets, liquids, etc.). A methodology (extraction and detection/quantification) for small molecules will be optimized plus another one for proteins (possibly with incorporation of LC – high resolution mass spectrometry (LC-HRMS)). Simultaneous analysis of as many toxins as possible in one method is the goal. After developing these methods, an extensive validation (both intra- and inter laboratory validation according to Commission Decision 2002/657/EC) will be performed to evaluate the performance of the methods developed. In addition, this performance will be compared with existing methodologies. Last an international ring trial is planned.


This project contributed to a better knowledge and availability of analytical possibilities for several plant toxins in food supplements. This is necessary for the competent authorities and food supplement producers in view of consumer’s food safety. Major findings of this research project were the lack of consumption data and of commercially available standards, the chemical diversity of the plant toxins considered and the complexity of dietary food supplements, as well as the detection of plant toxins which were not always expected based on the plant ingredient list. The results obtained during the ANAPLANTOX project were presented at the KVCV-studiedag “Giftige Planten en hun Toxines” (Belgium), and at the 9th International Symposium on Recent Advances in Food Analysis (RAFA, Prague; 2nd price public poster award). At the end of the project, a theoretical workshop was held to increase the dissemination of the results to private/public laboratories and competent authorities.

Effective start/end date1/02/1713/11/19