• foods and medicinal plants;
  • zearalenone;
  • α-zearalenol;
  • LC-MS-MS



Mycotoxins, which may contaminate many foods and medicinal plants, are poisonous to humans. A high-performance liquid chromatography with fluorescence detection (HPLC-FLD) method was successfully developed for analysing the contamination levels of zearalenone (ZON) and its metabolite α-zearalenol (α-ZOL) in 100 widely consumed foods and medicinal plants in China. Samples were extracted with methanol–water (80:20, v/v), and cleaned up by using an immunoaffinity column.


The limits of detection of this developed method for ZON and α-ZOL were 4 µg kg−1 and 2.5 µg kg−1, respectively. Recoveries for the samples spiked with three levels (30, 60 and 300 µg kg−1 for ZON and α-ZOL) ranged from 85.8% to 96.1% with relative standard deviation (RSD) of 2.6–7.1% for ZON, and from 89.9% to 98.7% with RSD of 1.9–9.2% for α-ZOL. Twelve (12%) of these tested samples were contaminated with ZON at levels ranging from 5.3 to 295.8 µg kg−1. The most contaminated samples were Semen coicis, four of them in a concentration level exceeding 60 µg kg−1 ‘maximum level’ (range 68.9–119.6 µg kg−1). Positive samples were further confirmed by liquid chromatography–tandem mass spectrometry.


The results suggest that it is necessary to control ZON contamination in medicinal plants, especially Semen coicis. This is a successful study on the analysis of ZON and α-ZOL in medicinal plants in China by HPLC-FLD. Immunoaffinity clean-up and HPLC-FLD proved to have broad applicability in the field of simultaneously detecting ZON and α-ZOL in foods and medicinal plants and other complicated matrices.© 2012 Society of Chemical Industry