Aflatoxins in food

Source of Article: S. C.

Aflatoxins are mycotoxins produced by two species of Aspergillus, a fungus which is especially found in areas with hot and humid climates. Since aflatoxins are known to be genotoxic and carcinogenic, exposure through food should be kept as low as possible.

Aflatoxins can occur in foods, such as groundnuts, treenuts, maize, rice, figs and other dried foods, spices and crude vegetable oils, and cocoa beans, as a result of fungal contamination before and after harvest.

Several types of aflatoxins are produced in nature. Aflatoxin B1 is the most common in food and amongst the most potent genotoxic and carcinogenic aflatoxins. It is produced both by Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus. Aflatoxin M1 is a major metabolite of aflatoxin B1 in humans and animals, which may be present in milk from animals fed with aflatoxin B1 contaminated feed.

EU regulatory framework
The European Union introduced measures to minimise the presence of aflatoxins in different foodstuffs. Maximum levels of aflatoxins are laid down in Commission Regulation (EC) No 1881/2006. Products exceeding the maximum levels should not be placed on the market in the EU. Directive 2002/32/EC lays down maximum levels for aflatoxins B1 in feed materials.

Methods of sampling and analysis for the official control of mycotoxins, including aflatoxins, are laid down in Commission Regulation No 401/2006. This ensures that the same sampling criteria intended for the control of mycotoxin content in food are applied to the same products by the competent authorities throughout the EU and that certain performance criteria, such as recovery and precision, are fulfilled.

In 2008, the Codex Alimentarius set a maximum level of 10 g/kg total aflatoxins in ready-to-eat almonds, hazelnuts, and pistachios at a level higher than that currently in force in the EU (4 g/kg total aflatoxins). Currently the European Commission and Member States are discussing the alignment of EU legislation for these nuts with the Codex Alimentarius decision. In addition, discussions will take place to align the new proposed maximum levels for all tree nuts.

by S. C.
09 July 2009 TN 6 Year 1



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