Significant Food Mycotoxin Exposure in Belgian Diet

Mold (fungi) frequently grow on foodstuffs and produce a wide variety of toxins called mycotoxins. Grains and peanuts are especially susceptible to mycotoxin contamination- especially if they have been stored under wet conditions and/or for long periods. Many types of molds can contaminate grains and other foodstuffs including Fusarium, Aspergillus, Penicillium and Alternaria. A common mycotoxin found in contaminated grain is Zeralenone (ZEN) which is produced by Fusarium.

Zearalenone mimics estrogen in humans and dietary consumption of zeralenone has been linked to early puberty and endometrial cancers. Other common mycotoxins produced by Fusarium and other molds and found on grains includethe trichothecene mycotoxins. Common trichothecene mycotoxins include the T-2 and H-
2 toxins and deoxynivalenol (DON). Human and animal studies have reported that consumption of trichothecene mycotoxins in food or feed can cause vomiting and other digestive problems, and damage to the neurological, immune and reproductive systems. Some countries have set maximum acceptable limits for mycotoxins in food and animal feeds, and maximum levels of daily mycotoxin consumption in humans. In the European Union, the maximum permitted dietary mycotoxin intake is called the tolerable daily intake (TDI).
A recent Belgian study analyzed 13 different mycotoxins in 174 samples of a wide variety of grain foods such as bread, popcorn, oatmeal, and breakfast cereals. Consumption of grain based food products was based on 3,083 participants in a 2004 Belgian survey. Mycotoxin contamination of grain products was very common, with an average of 5 mycotoxins detected in each grain sample. In general, mycotoxin levels were higher in breakfast cereals (especially corn flakes) and bread as compared to popcorn or oatmeal. In terms of total diet, the tolerable daily Intake (TDI) of mycotoxins was exceeded in 4.11% of the Belgian consumers for the H-2 and T-2 toxins, exceeded in 0.85% of the consumers for deoxynivalenol, and exceeded in 2.75% of the consumers for zearelenone. The authors recommended better storage and regulation of grain products to reduce dietary mycotoxin consumption.

Marthe De Boevre et al. Human Exposure to mycotoxins and their masked forms through cereal based foods in Belgium. Toxicology Letters, 2013, In Press


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