EUROPE – A recent systematic review funded by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has shed light on the prevalence of unregulated harmful mycotoxins in various foods.

Mycotoxins, toxic secondary metabolites produced by fungi, can contaminate food commodities during different stages of production and storage.

Linked to health issues such as immunosuppression, carcinogenesis, and gastrointestinal disorders, mycotoxins pose significant risks to human health.

In Europe, only a handful of mycotoxins are regulated, despite the existence of hundreds. Emerging mycotoxins, which are not yet regulated, are becoming more prevalent due to environmental changes associated with climate change.

Aflatoxins, ochratoxin A, fumonisins, deoxynivalenol, and zearalenone are some of the most common mycotoxins found in European food supplies.

Droughts and high temperatures create conditions conducive to mycotoxin-producing fungi. The study identified 15 such emerging mycotoxins in 38 different combinations across 19 food categories globally.

The research focused on foods with the highest dietary exposure in Europe, including cereals, cereal-based foods, oilseeds, nuts, fruits, vegetables, wine, sauces, coffees, legumes, beans, and potatoes.

These foods were grouped into 19 categories, and the study, which examined literature from January 2018–December 2022, marked the first attempt to quantify the occurrence and co-occurrence of these emerging mycotoxins worldwide.

Most studies concentrated on grains, grain-based products, legumes, and infant and child foods. A total of 38 different mixtures of non-regulated mycotoxins, ranging from 2–12 mycotoxins, were discovered.

What’s particularly concerning is that interactions between these mycotoxins often lead to additive or synergistic toxic effects.

This underscores the necessity for comprehensive data on the co-occurrence of both regulated and emerging mycotoxins to support accurate risk assessments.

The researchers emphasized the critical need for extensive data gathering, continuous monitoring, scientific collaboration, and support for ongoing risk assessments.

Understanding the co-occurrence of these mycotoxins and considering group-based toxicity assessments are crucial steps to ensure the safety of food supplies and protect public health.

Addressing the regulatory gaps and enhancing risk assessment methodologies are paramount in mitigating the potential health risks posed by these emerging mycotoxins.

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