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Mycotoxins In Sub-saharan Africa- A Serious Risk To The Food Supply

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 Mycotoxins are a major risk to the food supply in many ways. Some especially bad foodborne mycotoxins are aflatoxins produced by Aspergillus flavus and several other Aspergillus species. Aflatoxins are some of the most potent carcinogens (cancer-causing chemicals) known.

Water damaged and poorly stored foodstuffs (especially peanuts, corn and other grains) often become contaminated with alflatoxins. As reported earlier, foodborne aflatoxins are estimated to cause 25,200 to 155,000 annual worldwide human cases of liver cancer per year.

Problems with mycotoxins in foods and animal feeds are especially common in Africa south of the Sahara Desert. Six published studies report that aflatoxins in African peanuts and peanut butter exceed the European Union (EU) limit of 5 micrograms alfatoxin per kilogram of peanut product in a majority of samples- with some samples having over 100 micrograms of aflatoxins per kilogram. Seven studies report that alfatoxin levels in corn (maize) often exceed the EU aflatoxin limit of 4 micrograms per kilogram. Sorghum is less much less likely to be contaminated with high aflatoxins than peanuts or corn, however high aflatoxin concentrations are often seen in malt or beer made from sorghum. Cassava is sometimes contaminated with aflatoxins as well.

Aflatoxins and ochratoxins are sometimes found in coca products. Coffee is sometimes contaminated with ochratoxins. High levels of aflatoxins are often seen in the meat, milk, and eggs of domestic animals fed ochratoxin contaminated grains such as corn and legumes such as peanuts. Exposure to high levels of foodborne mycotoxins is associated with reduced mental and physical growth in all-too many children in developing nations. The growth stunting effect of mycotoxins is especially pronounced if the diet is generally deficient in protein, calories, and other nutrients. Many animal studies have reported that foodborne aflatoxin is associated with growth retardation. A number of human studies have reported that high blood levels of aflatoxins are associated with lower weights at birth and early childhood. Better harvest and storage of staple foods like peanuts, corn and other grain can greatly reduce food borne contamination of mycotoxins such as aflatoxins and ochratoxins.

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References / Sources

Patachimaporn Udomkun et al. Mycotoxins in sub-saharan Africa: Present situation, socio-economic impact, awareness, and outlook. Food Control 2017:72:110-122.

Yan Liu et al. Population attributable risk of aflatoxin-related liver cancer: Systematic review and meta-analysis. European Journal of Cancer 2012:48:2125-36.

Pornsri Khlangwiset et al. Aflatoxins and growth impairment: A Review. Critical Reviews in Toxicology 2011;41(9):740-55.


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