What are aflatoxins?


What are aflatoxins?

In Summary

  • Aflatoxins are a family of toxins produced by certain fungi that are found on agricultural crops such as maize, peanuts, cottonseed, and tree nuts.
  • Two main fungi that produce aflatoxins thrive primarily in warm and humid regions.
  • Aflatoxin-producing fungi can contaminate crops in the field, at harvest, and during storage.

The latest aflatoxins scare that has seen a number of products suspended by the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) brings up questions on just what they are. We are aware of their deadly symptoms and not to mention the economic impact.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), aflatoxins cause an estimated 25 per cent or more of the world’s food crops to be destroyed annually.

So let’s take a look at some quick facts on aflatoxins.

Aflatoxins are a family of toxins produced by certain fungi that are found on agricultural crops such as maize, peanuts, cottonseed, and tree nuts. Two main fungi that produce aflatoxins thrive primarily in warm and humid regions.

Aflatoxin-producing fungi can contaminate crops in the field, at harvest, and during storage. Pre-harvest contamination with aflatoxins is mainly limited to maize, cottonseed, peanuts and tree nuts. Post-harvest contamination can be found in a variety of other crops such as coffee, rice and spices.

People can be exposed to aflatoxins by eating contaminated plant products or by consuming meat or dairy products from animals that ate contaminated feed.

Farmers and other agricultural workers may be exposed by inhaling dust generated during the handling and processing of contaminated crops and feeds.

The consumption of food containing aflatoxin concentrations of 1 milligram per kilogram or higher has been suspected to cause aflatoxicosis.

Symptoms include vomiting, abdominal pain, excess fluid in the lungs and liver damage.

Aflatoxins are potent carcinogens and may affect all organ systems, especially the liver and kidneys; even going as far as causing liver cancer.

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