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100’s of mycotoxins have been identified in a wide range of food commodities. Although, only a handful of mycotoxins are commonly found in food and feed and regularly monitored owing to the known risk they pose to human health.

Exposure to mycotoxins is mainly linked to the consumption of contaminated plant-based food commodities. However, mycotoxin residues may pass through animals into milk, meat or eggs.

Impact of mycotoxins on human health

Mycotoxigenic fungi and mycotoxin contamination are variable from country to country. In the developed world there is a concerted effort to reduce the negative impact of mycotoxins via agricultural practices, stringent regulations and routine mycotoxin testing. However, the developing world is progressively moving towards mycotoxin management best practices.

Some factors that influence mould growth and consequently mould production can be managed by human intervention, factors such as; crop rotation management or harvest techniques. However, ambient temperatures, rainfall or humidity is all down to ‘Mother Nature’.

Both in the developed and developing world the risk of exposure to mycotoxins is always there as mycotoxins have the ability to appear at various stages of a crops life cycle and some mycotoxins may even survive food processing.

Therefore without mycotoxin management, regular testing and quarantining of crops, sustained exposure to mycotoxins such as Aflatoxin could result in liver damage and potentially cancer. Vomitoxin and T-2 are extremely toxic to rapidly dividing cells, therefore, exposure to these toxins could affect the immune system or pose a significant risk to foetuses. Zearalenone mimics’ oestrogen and can interfere with the secretion of hormones, in doing so disrupting fertility or resulting in other reproductive problems.

annual losses of approximately $52m due to aflatoxin contaminationThe economic impact of mycotoxins

Of course, the risk mycotoxins have on human health drives the regulations and management of mycotoxins. However, the financial loss incurred by a crop contaminated with mycotoxins has an effect on the supply chain and feeding an ever-increasing global population.

In the USA alone, the corn industry experiences annual losses of approximately $52m due to aflatoxin contamination, in bad years losses have been as high as $1.7bn.

Utilising mycotoxin management techniques will of course aid the monitoring and containment of mycotoxin contamination levels. But, mycotoxins will be continued to be monitored and regulated as long as there is a risk to the economy and human health.