Dept Chem-CAS team develops an easy-to-use cassava cyanide test kit
Every now and then, we can read and hear reports on cassava cyanide poisoning. The March 2005 Bohol incident where at least 27 elementary school children died and approximately 100 people were hospitalized after allegedly eating fried cassava balls, and the alleged cassava poisoning in Cotabato, also in March 2005 have sowed fear in cassava consumption. Among the latest reports on cassava poisoning were about the death of a girl in Cotabato in August 20, 2015 and the alleged cassava cyanide poisoning among high school students in Brgy. Suclaran, San Lorenzo, Guimaras.
To ensure the public’s food safety, a team from the Department of Chemistry, College of Arts and Sciences, UP Visayas (Dept Chem, CAS) through the funding assistance of UPV Foundation, Inc. developed an Easy-to-Use Kit to test the cyanide content of cassava roots. The sodium picrate method was first introduced by Dr. James Howard Bradbury of the Australian National University, Canberra, Australia. However, since transport of the kit from Australia is costly and is therefore not sustainable, the team with Dr. Vivian Azucena-Topor as the Project Leader, together with Mr. Anthony Salvador Albaladejo (Chemistry Instructor) and Joseph Noel Alviar (Project Assistant) studied and adopted with modifications the sodium picrate method developed by Bradbury to come up with one that would be suitable for local use.
Bourdoux (1982) classified cassava plants into three categories based on their cyanogenic content: a) nontoxic (with less than 50 mg HCN/kg in fresh roots), b) moderately toxic (50-100 mg HCN/kg in fresh roots), and c) dangerously toxic (bitter orwild) cassava (above 100 mg HCN/kg of fresh pulp).To determine the cassava cyanide content using the kit developed by Topor’s Team, one needs to compare the color change of the picrate paper due to cyanide concentration in the cassava root sample with the corresponding color in the Cassava Cyanide Color Wheel. The test kit was designed in such a way that an ordinary technician, preferably from the Local Agriculture or Health Office, can be trained to perform the analysis. These technicians can then advise farmers to propagate low-cyanide cassava varieties to assure consumers of food safety, while the high-cyanide varieties can be prioritized for industrial purposes.
On March 5, 2016, the Team went to Brgy. Suclaran, San Lorenzo, Guimaras to conduct a training on how to use the kit for the LGU, which was attended by Hon. Punong Barangay Felicitas Vilches and members of the Barangay Council. The team gave lectures on the different varieties of cassava and their corresponding cyanide content, the effect of storage on cyanide content, how to increase the awareness of consumers on cassava cyanide, and some good practices in preparing cassava for human consumption. A test kit was then donated to Brgy. Suclaran LGU through Hon. Vilches.
Further training on cassava cyanide monitoring and profiling using the kit will also be conducted in partnership with the Department of Agriculture Regional Field Office (DA-RFO) through the cassava focal person, Ms.Charmae F. Antipatia. (By: Anthony Salvador Albaladejo, Department of Chemistry)