Mycotoxins are naturally occurring toxins produced by certain moulds (fungi) and can be found in food. The moulds grow on a variety of different crops and foodstuffs including cereals, nuts, spices, dried fruits, apples and coffee beans, often under warm and humid conditions.
The effects of some food-borne mycotoxins are acute with symptoms of severe illness appearing quickly after consumption of food products contaminated with mycotoxins. Other mycotoxins occurring in food have been linked to long-term effects on health, including the induction of cancers and immune deficiency. Of the several hundred mycotoxins identified so far, about a dozen have gained the most attention due to their severe effects on human health and their occurrences in food.
Several hundred different mycotoxins have been identified, but the most commonly observed mycotoxins that present a concern to human health and livestock include aflatoxins, ochratoxin A patulin, fumonisins, zearalenone and nivalenol/deoxynivalenol. Mycotoxins appear in the food chain as a result of mould infection of crops both before and after harvest. Exposure to mycotoxins can happen either directly by eating infected food or indirectly from animals that are fed contaminated feed, in particular from milk.
It is important to note that mould that produces mycotoxins can grow on a variety of different crops and foodstuff and can penetrate deep into food and do not just grow on the surface. Mould usually does not grow in properly dried and stored foods, so efficient drying of commodities and maintenance of the dry state, or proper storage, is an effective measure against mould growth and the production of mycotoxins.
Exposure to mycotoxins needs to be kept as low as possible to protect the people. Mycotoxins not only pose a risk to both human and animal health, but also impact food security and nutrition by reducing people’s access to healthy food. WHO encourages national authorities to monitor and ensure that levels of mycotoxins in foodstuff on their market are as low as possible and comply with the both national and international maximum levels, conditions and legislation.
Microbiology: Current Research