Is Your Pizza Safe: Thoughts On Ergot and Food Safety

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One of the best pizzas I've ever experience was hand-made in a HUGE, central, wood-fire oven. The flavor was like nothing I'd experience before. It made me want one of those brick ovens, decorated with those same colorful ceramic tiles - in my house... and that pizza recipe. Did you know that North Dakota is the top growing U.S. state of spring wheat, a high-protein variety milled into flour for pizza dough as well as specialty breads and bagels? But, the wheat in North Dakota is taking a bitter hit these days. According to a Reuters online article on Tuesday, August 14, 2018, "elevated levels of the grain fungus ergot are showing up in spring wheat being harvested in south-central North Dakota, prompting grain elevators to impose discounts and even turn some truckloads away." What is "ergot"? It's a black or purple kernel-sized body, or sclerotia, that replaces the normal kernel in a head of wheat. This ergot is a fungus (Claviceps purpurea) that infects the plant and is toxic to animals and humans. Elevators do not accept grain that has levels of ergot over 0.05 without discounting it. In 2014, issues with ergot were also a concern. Farm Forum, at that time, shared this information: "Once a wheat crop is infected with ergot, there is not much a producer can do other than have it cleaned in hopes of being able to market the grain. There is expense involved, particularly if a second cleaning is needed, but that is better than having a crop you can't sell." For our producers up north, the news of ergot is, at the very least, a frustration. Along with that comes added expense and headaches to make sure it's cleaned and safe to sell. On the flip side, consumers can be thankful for the fact that America has checks and balances in place to keep our foods and feed safe. Buying American food has its benefits. Whether it's the wheat, meat, cheese, tomato sauce or anything else needed for pizza, it's worth sticking with American Made.

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