Corn Often Contaminated with Mycotoxins; Ways of Controlling Mycotoxins in Corn


Corn (Maize) was domesticated from the wild grain Teosinte by Native American plant breeders more than one thousand years ago.  Further work in plant breeding in the 19th and 20th centuries has made corn the highest yielding of all grains.  With good soil and good rainfall, corn frequently yields over 200 bushels per acre in the USA (1 bushel corn = 56 pounds, 1 acre is a plot 200 by 200 feet).  Corn is a major part of the diet of many people and domestic animals like cows, pigs, chickens, and turkeys.  Corn can be prepared into many tasty dishes.

Unfortunately most corn (maize) is contaminated with significant amounts of many types of mycotoxins from molds (fungi).  Such mycotoxins include the very carcinogenic (cancer causing) aflatoxins, trichothecenes (toxic to the nervous and immune systems), fuminosens (damage the hormonal and digestive systems), patulin (causes immune problems and tremors), gliotoxin (also toxic to the nervous and immune systems), ochratoxin (causes immunosuppresion and can cause liver and kidney cancer).   Some studies have reported that consuming Aflatoxins on moldy peanuts and corn can significantly increase risk of liver cancer. Mycotoxin levels tend to be particularly high if corn has been stored in silos.

Research is currently underway to reduce the significant levels of mycotoxins found in corn.  Some approaches to reducing mycotoxin levels include:

1)  Make sure that corn is relatively dry when harvested.  Avoid growing corn in very wet areas.

2)  Drying corn ears before shelling the grain for storage.

3)  Storing corn in clean, dry silos with few insects.  Air conditioners and dehumifiers may be needed in some conditions.

4)  Use of carbon dioxide and nitrogen gas can reduce mycotoxin buildup.

5)  Use of sorbic acid can reduce mold growth and mycotoxin buildup.  Sorbic acid has low toxicity and is sometimes used by humans to fight Candida overgrowth in the intestines.

6)  Use of anti-oxidant chemicals such as butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) can also reduce mycotoxin growth.

7) Use of herbs like thyme, oregano and cloves can also reduce mold and mycotoxin growth in stored corn.

Until research finds better ways to control mycotoxins on corn, it probably would be best to limit corn consumption.

A good review of controlling mycotoxins in corn is now in Press in the journal Food Additives and Contaminants.  Farmers and food processors may have an interest in this article.   I would be happy to send you a free pdf of this paper if you contact me at

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