Mycotoxins In Foodstuffs

December 11, 2013

Mycotoxins are naturally produced forms of defence for organisms, produced by moulds and fungi. All materials, particularly natural, and many man-made, are contaminated by moulds and fungi. These fungal spores are found everywhere, and are unavoidable within the natural world, without exception, meaning that they are ubiquitous. Mould and fungi growth is greatly encouraged by the presence of heat and moisture, but toxin production is also dictated by other factors that induce stress, including drought.

All types of moulds and fungi naturally produce toxins. There are hundreds of these mycotoxins, and contamination of natural materials, by multiple toxins from one or more fungi, is commonplace. Good management practices, when applied correctly, can reduce the potential for fungal growth as well as toxin production and contamination. However, it is virtually impossible to be sure that naturally occurring material will be mycotoxin free.

Published by the Food Standards Agency, sampling advice exists for enforcement authorities and food business operators regarding legislation on mycotoxins in foodstuffs, together with the official sampling methods for certain foods. However, the guidance is not a substitute for the EU and domestic legislation to which it refers, nor is it a statutory code. The legislation should be referred to alongside the guidance.

Should a food business require analysis of samples for mycotoxins within the UK, it is important to ensure a laboratory with the relevant accreditation for mycotoxin analysis is used. Such samples (official control samples) should be analysed at an Official Control Laboratory (OCL). The individual businesses concerned are responsible for deciding how to satisfy themselves that their food is compliant with legislation and safe to eat, before placing it on the market.

To help ensure their food products do not contain mycotoxins above the maximum levels allowed, food business operators are advised to test their products on a regular basis. Normally, this involves taking a representative sample from a given batch or lot, which is then sent to a UKAS accredited laboratory.

This analysis should target mycotoxins most likely to be found in the given food, or for which there are maximum levels. In the case of spices, for example, this would include testing for aflatoxins and ochratoxin A.

When determining the amount of mycotoxin in a food, both the sampling method and the analysis are very important. The reason for this is that mycotoxins tend to be unevenly distributed within given foods, instead occurring in ‘hotspots.’

It may be more practical in some cases, such as small businesses manufacturing foodstuffs, to analyse and test raw commodities before they are used as ingredients in finished food products.

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