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Moldy food is a massive global problem. About 4.5 billion people in developing countries are exposed to uncontrolled and unmonitored amounts of mycotoxins. Food containing mold and mycotoxins can cause malnutrition, suppress the immune system, increase disease rates such as cancer, cause lifelong stunting in children and death.

It has been estimated by the United Nations that worldwide, approximately 25% of crops are affected by mold mycotoxins annually (CAST, 1989), of which the most notorious are aflatoxins produced by the mold known as aspergillus. The annual economic costs of mold and mycotoxins to the U.S. agricultural economy is estimated to average $1.4 billion (CAST, 2003).

In order to combat this deadly toxic food problem, we need to understand how molds live and grow in order to implement proper storage procedures. For example, we know that molds will generally not grow and thrive in an environment that has lower than 65 percent relative humidity.

Armed with this knowledge, UC Davis, California scientists, Michael Reid and James Thompson recently developed a new simple and cheap technology called the DryCard™ in order to help reduce moisture and mold in stored food.

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“The effects of mold are so pervasive they aren’t even really quantifiable,” Reid said. “Only a small percentage of farmers lose their entire harvest to mold. Usually they end up selling moldy foods at a lower price.”

The moldy foods make their way to consumers’ plates where they continue to have harmful effects. “There is a tremendous problem with stunting in developing countries. People commonly think of this problem as only a nutrition problem [related to insufficient diet], but moldy foods play a significant role,” he said.

The DryCard™ will determine if dried food is at a low enough moisture content to prevent mold growth during storage. It is the size iof a business card with a simple strip made of Cobalt chloride indicates dryness by changing color with a color guide which costs just pennies per card for farmers to use.

The indicator strip on the DryCard turns blue or gray when food is adequately dried, or pink if food product is too wet for safe storage.

On March 31 in Nairobi, the DryCard had won the grand prize for the top emerging technology grand prize at the All Africa Postharvest Technologies and Innovation Challenge.

Here is a quick 5-minute video that shows how the card works.

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