Mycotoxins

Introduction

Mycotoxins are toxic compounds that are naturally produced by different types of fungi. Mycotoxins enter the food chain as a result of infection of crops before or after harvest and are typically found in foods such as cereals, dried fruits, nuts and spices.

The presence of mycotoxins in food and feed may cause adverse health effects in humans and animals, ranging from gastrointestinal and kidney disorders to immune deficiency and cancer.

Exposure to mycotoxins can happen by eating contaminated foods or from animals that are fed contaminated feed. The most common mycotoxins that pose a concern to human or animal health include aflatoxins, ochratoxin A and Fusarium toxins such as deoxynivalenol.

Since temperature and humidity are important parameters for the growth of fungi climate change is anticipated to impact on the presence of mycotoxins.

Milestones

2020 - EFSA publishes a scientific opinion on public health risks related to the presence of ochratoxin A in food – a mycotoxin naturally produced by moulds that can be found in a variety of foodstuffs including cereals, preserved meats, fresh and dried fruit, and cheese.

2018 EFSA publishes the last opinion in a series of four evaluating whether it is appropriate to set a group health-based guidance value for mycotoxins and their modified forms.

2017-2018, EFSA assesses the risks of deoxynivalenol, diacetoxyscirpenol and moniliformin to human and animal health found in food and feed. All three occur predominantly in cereal grains.

2017 EFSA visits its Italian partners and discusses the issue of climate change and aflatoxins as well as other mycotoxins. EFSA also releases a video on “Mycotoxins and Climate Change”, highlighting how changes in temperature, humidity, rainfall and carbon dioxide production impact on fungal behaviour and consequently on mycotoxin production. Italian research on aflatoxin is featured in the video.

2009 EFSA completes the final opinion in a series of 30 risk assessments looking at undesirable substances in animal feed.

Role

EFSA collects and evaluates occurrence data on mycotoxins in food and feed. It also prepares guidance for applicants on how to conduct the safety and efficacy assessment of feed additives that help to reduce the contamination of feed by mycotoxins.

EFSA provides risk managers with scientific advice to inform their decision-making on the setting of maximum levels of mycotoxins (such as aflatoxins, ochratoxin A, deoxynivalenol or zearalenone) in food and feed. It looks at the related risks posed to human and animal health and may set Tolerable Daily IntakesAn estimate of the amount of a substance in food or drinking water which is not added deliberately (e.g contaminants) and which can be consumed over a lifetime without presenting an appreciable risk to health.  for various mycotoxins.

Experts assess human and animal exposure using occurrence data, in particular, from monitoring activities in EU Member States. This includes exposure for specific population groups e.g. infants and children, people following specific diets and for different animal species (such as farm animals, fish and pets).

With regard to mycotoxins in feed, EFSA also considers the level of carry-over from feed to foods of animal origin and identifies feed materials which could be considered as sources of exposure.

EFSA ensures the continuity of data collection on mycotoxins, integrating newly generated occurrence data into existing databases and supporting the creation of new ones.

 

EU framework

EU legislation protects consumers by:

  • Setting maximum levels for mycotoxins in food and feed to ensure they are not harmful to human or animal health
  • Keeping mycotoxin levels as low as reasonably achievable following recommended good agricultural, storage and processing practices.

See the latest on the EU legislation on mycotoxins.