Mycotoxins are toxic substances produced by certain molds or fungi that can contaminate various agricultural products, including cereals, grains, nuts, fruits, and animal feeds. These toxins pose a significant threat to human and animal health, as they can cause acute or chronic illnesses, and are a matter of great concern for the food and feed industry. Consequently, mycotoxin testing is crucial to ensure the safety and quality of our food supply chain.
Mycotoxin profiling involves the identification and quantification of specific mycotoxins present in food and feed samples. This process allows us to determine the concentration levels and assess the potential risks associated with these toxins. By conducting mycotoxin tests, food producers, manufacturers, and regulatory bodies can make informed decisions regarding product acceptance, export/import, and compliance with food safety regulations.
Let's take a closer look at some commonly tested mycotoxins:
Aflatoxin Total: Aflatoxins are highly toxic compounds produced by Aspergillus molds, primarily A. flavus and A. parasiticus. These mycotoxins are potent carcinogens and are associated with liver damage. Testing for aflatoxin total provides an overall measurement of various aflatoxins (B1, B2, G1, G2) present in the sample.
Aflatoxin B1: Aflatoxin B1 is the most prevalent and toxic form of aflatoxin. It is known to be carcinogenic, particularly affecting the liver. Aflatoxin B1 contamination often occurs in crops such as peanuts, corn, cottonseed, and tree nuts.
Aflatoxin M1: Aflatoxin M1 is a metabolite of aflatoxin B1 and can be found in milk and dairy products obtained from animals fed with contaminated feed. It poses a potential risk to human health as it can be transferred from animal sources to humans.
Ochratoxin: Ochratoxins are produced by several species of Aspergillus and Penicillium molds. Ochratoxin A is the most common and concerning type, known for its nephrotoxic (kidney-damaging) properties. It can contaminate a wide range of commodities, including cereals, coffee, grapes, and dried fruits.
Deoxynivalenol (DON): Also referred to as vomitoxin, DON is produced by Fusarium molds, commonly found in wheat, barley, and corn. Consumption of DON-contaminated food and feed can lead to nausea, vomiting, and immunosuppression.
Fumonisin: Fumonisins are produced by Fusarium molds and are prevalent in corn and corn-based products. High levels of fumonisins have been linked to diseases such as equine leukoencephalomalacia (ELEM) in horses and porcine pulmonary edema (PPE) in pigs.
Zearalenone: Zearalenone is produced by Fusarium molds and primarily affects cereals, such as maize, wheat, barley, and oats. It possesses estrogenic properties.
Trichothecene (T-2)/HT-2: Trichothecenes are a group of mycotoxins produced by different species of molds, including Fusarium. These toxins are commonly found in cereals, such as wheat, barley, and corn. They can cause various health problems, including gastrointestinal issues, immunosuppression, and even neurological effects.
It is important to note that the presence of these mycotoxins in food and feed can vary depending on several factors, including geographical location, climatic conditions, and agricultural practices. Therefore, regular mycotoxin profiling is crucial to ensure the safety and quality of our food supply chain. By performing mycotoxin tests, we can identify and quantify the specific mycotoxins present, determine their levels of contamination, and take appropriate measures to mitigate risks. These measures may include implementing better agricultural practices, improving storage conditions, or implementing targeted detoxification processes to reduce mycotoxin levels.