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Aflatoxins

Aflatoxins

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Description

Aflatoxins are toxins formed by molds, which are produced by two mold species of the genus Aspergillus. These toxins are mold toxins that are largely heat stable. Aflatoxins can therefore not be destroyed or reduced during food processing, e.g. by cooking and baking.

Occurrence

There are around 20 naturally occurring aflatoxins, with aflatoxin B1 being the most common in food. Aflatoxins may be present in pistachios, peanuts and hazelnuts in particular. Aflatoxin M1 can occur in milk and milk products.

Health risk

Aflatoxins have a carcinogenic potential and can damage genetic material. If food containing elevated levels of aflatoxins is consumed once or over a short period of time, no adverse health effects are to be expected. As a long-term consequence, kidney damage, liver damage such as cirrhosis, and kidney and liver cancer may occur.

Situation in Austria

Since contamination by aflatoxins cannot always be avoided, the European Commission has set maximum aflatoxin levels in the Contaminants Regulation 1881/2006, which apply to individual foods and feedstuffs. The foodstuffs concerned are regularly checked for compliance with the maximum levels as part of the official foodstuffs control. Products in which the maximum aflatoxin levels are exceeded may not be placed on the market in the EU.

Tips

  • Do not consume products containing aflatoxin and foods made from them that have been recalled because of aflatoxins.
  • Do not consume foods that have mold. On the one hand, the mold might not have visibly spread in the food; on the other hand, the mycotoxins formed by the mold might spread in the food. This is especially true for foods with high water content, but also bread and other cereal products. Exceptions apply to foods with a very low water content, such as hard cheese or salami. In such foods, the mold can be removed by cutting it out generously.Avoid moist and warm storage of foods, as this promotes fungal growth and toxin formation

Specialized information

On the one hand, aflatoxins have a liver-toxic effect and, on the other hand, a carcinogenic and mutagenic effect. Studies on population groups have clearly shown that aflatoxins are involved in the development of liver cancer. Aflatoxin B1 is generally considered to be the most toxic toxin from this group. The metabolic products of aflatoxins released by farm animals via milk or eggs are also dangerous to humans, which is why aflatoxin levels are strictly controlled not only in food but also in animal feed throughout the EU.

Last updated: 25.01.2022

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