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Mouldy maize
Mouldy maize

Naturally occurring contaminants (mycotoxins)

Mycotoxins are toxic substances produced by fungi that contaminate food. They can contaminate the crop while it is growing or cause contamination at later stages - such as during storage.

Mycotoxins are known to be toxic to humans and animals, causing various negative health risks.

Mycotoxins and health risk

The toxicities and adverse health effects of common mycotoxins are:

  • Aflatoxin

Liver toxicity, liver cancer, growth impairment, immune suppression

  • Fumonisin

Cytotoxic, liver toxicity, kidney toxicity, immune suppression, oesophageal cancer, neural tube defect

  • Trichothecenes

Liver toxicity, reproductive toxicity, growth inhibition, immune suppression, leukopenia

  • Zearalenone

Estrogenic effect, growth performance reduction

  • Ochratoxin A

Kidney toxicity, kidney cancer, neurotoxicity, growth inhibition, immune suppression

Mycotoxins can be found in:

  • Bread (Deoxynivalenol, Zearalenone and Ochratoxin A)
  • Oats (HT2 and T2)
  • Dried fruits and cereals (Ochratoxin A)
  • Nuts (Aflatoxins)
  • Barley, oats, wheat, rice, sorghum and soy beans (Zearalenone)
  • Apple juice (Pantulin, Ochratoxin A)
  • Cornflakes (Fumonisins, Zearalenone, Deoxynivalenol)

Some questions for you to consider:

  • Were you aware of mycotoxins prior to completion of this course?
  • Did you associate such contaminants with the different types of foods highlighted above?
  • Can you suggest other foods at risk from mycotoxin-related contamination?

Please share your thoughts to any (or all) of these questions in the discussion area below.

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This article is from the free online course:

Tackling Global Food Safety

Queen's University Belfast