Testing the potential of distilling as an alternative use for DON-contaminated wheat

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2022: $14,764.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2023
Grant Recipient: University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Region: North Central
State: Illinois
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Matthew Stasiewicz
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


  • Agronomic: rye, wheat


  • Crop Production: food processing

    Proposal abstract:

    The mycotoxin deoxynivalenol (DON), caused by Fusarium Head Blight, is barrier to North-Central Region (NCR) wheat production.  Farmers testify to, and state survey data shows, frequent DON contamination above FDA advisory levels for human food, the highest value use of wheat.

    This project is titled “Testing the potential of distilling as an alternative use for DON-contaminated wheat”. We built a team with the Artisan Grain Collaborative (AGC) to assist the rising number of small and mid-size wheat grower and miller stakeholders across our region with managing food safety issues in a cost-effective manner, particularly in situations in which they already have high DON in wheat at harvest.

    We communicated with farmers about their needs and reviewed literature on contaminated wheat management, coming up with this proposal to explore distilling, an understudied option, as a high-value alternative use for DON-contaminated wheat. With cooperation from NCR farmers, we will procure wheat samples that have tested high for DON, conduct distillation, and trace DON segregates by Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA) kit. This work will take place in the University of Illinois Food Science & Human Nutrition Pilot Processing Plant (IBRL) using their distillation and other equipment. The work will be evaluated by surveys with NCR farmers. Recorded videos about distilling and DON measurement method and recorded presentations about results explanation will be shared with NCR farmers.

    The outcomes of this research are important for NCR famers because, collectively, this work could assist growers in overcoming a major food safety barrier to high-value wheat production and open a new potential market for wheat.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Learning outcomes

    We will show the distilling flow diagram and parameters to farmers and distillers. This could introduce the distilling work to those who might not be familiar with distilling. In addition, we will present the data to IRBL and AGC stakeholders, including each product of the pre-processing, brewing, and distilling process for the proportion of DON retained. We expect to share our explanation of the results with our audience.  We hope we could help small grain growers reduce their concerns about the risks of growing and processing small grains for food-grade markets. We expect growers could be more confident to produce small grains. The distillers could have a conception about where DON goes during processing, and better understand if and how to prepare for working with grain that has above 1ppm DON.   

    Action outcomes

    One clear outcome will be the ability of the University of Illinois IBRL-AGC partnership to provide clear and accurate guidance to farmers, millers, and distillers about whether and at what levels DON-contaminated grain can be safely used in distillation, thus impacting farmer, miller, and distiller decision-making in selling and using these grains.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.