Screening of plant toxins in food, feed and botanicals using full-scan high-resolution (Orbitrap) mass spectrometry

<div><p>A generic method based on LC with full-scan high-resolution (Orbitrap) mass spectrometry (MS) was systematically investigated for the simultaneous detection of a wide range of plant toxins in a variety of food and feed matrices. For a selection of 150 substances, representing various chemical classes, the limit of detection was established using fixed LC-MS conditions. Ion suppression effects and selectivity were evaluated using generic extracts from representative and relevant matrices (food supplement, honey, silage, compound feed). The majority of the substances could be measured as positive ions after electrospray ionisation (ESI<sup>+</sup>). Using a mass resolving power of 100,000 a reliable high mass accuracy was obtained despite the high abundance of co-extractants in the sample extracts. This enabled the use of ±5 ppm mass extraction windows, which in turn resulted in a high degree of selectivity. On the other hand, except for honey, strong ion suppression effects were frequently observed which adversely affected the detection limits. Nevertheless, for the majority of the substances the detection limits were in the range 0.01–0.05 mg kg<sup>−1</sup>. Since non-selective sample preparation and non-targeted data acquisition were performed, the presence of plant toxins initially not targeted for during data review can be subsequently investigated, which is a very useful option because for many known toxins no analytical reference standards are yet available. The applicability of the method was demonstrated by analysis of a variety of real-life samples purchased on the market or from cases of intoxication. These included honey, herbal tea, food supplements, poppy seeds, traditional Chinese medicines, compound feed, silage and herb-based feed additives. Plant toxins that were detected included various pyrrolizidine alkaloids, grayanotoxins, opium alkaloids, strychnine, ricinine (a marker for ricin), aconitine, aristolochic acid and cardiac glycosides (e.g. digitoxin, digoxin).</p> </div>