Mycotoxins are a group of naturally occurring chemicals produced by certain moulds. They can grow on a variety of different crops and foodstuffs including cereals, nuts, spices, dried fruits, apple juice and coffee, often under warm and humid conditions.
The mycotoxins of most concern from a food safety perspective include the aflatoxins (B1, B2, G1, G2 and M1), ochratoxin A, patulin and toxins produced by Fusarium moulds, including fumonisins (B1, B2 and B3), trichothecenes (principally nivalenol, deoxynivalenol, T-2 and HT-2 toxin) and zearalenone.
Mycotoxins can cause a variety of adverse health effects in humans. Aflatoxins, including aflatoxin B1 are the most toxic and have been shown to be genotoxic i.e. can damage DNA and cause cancer in animal species. There is also evidence that they can cause liver cancer in humans. Other mycotoxins have a range of other health effects including kidney damage, gastrointestinal disturbances, reproductive disorders or suppression of the immune system. For most mycotoxins, a tolerable daily intake (TDI) has been established, which estimates the quantity of mycotoxin which someone can be exposed to daily over a lifetime without it posing a significant risk to health.
In order to protect consumer safety, rules and strict legislative limits for aflatoxins, ochratoxin A, patulin and Fusarium toxins in certain foodstuffs are set out in European Commission legislation. The legislation applies to the specified foods whether they are imported into the UK or produced in the UK. In addition, there are a number of special import conditions currently in place for some foods from certain third countries where the risk from aflatoxin contamination is increased, which further improves consumer protection.
The Agency has produced several pieces of guidance and advice to industry including farmers to advise them on the agronomic and storage practices to help to reduce the contamination of cereals with mycotoxins and therefore the likelihood of exceeding the current European legal limits.
For further information
If you have a question or would like further information about mycotoxins, you can contact us at:
tel: 020 7276 8716
Mycotoxins in feed
Dr Ray Smith
tel: 020 7276 8474
There are also a number of other websites with information on mycotoxins. See External site links.
More in this section
Descriptions of some of the most commonly found mycotoxins in food and feed that may be of concern to consumer food safety.
What are mycotoxins and why are they of concern? Find out the answers to these and other general questions.
Mycotoxins guidance and advice produced by the FSA and the European Commission.