EUROPE – The European Commission (EC) has recently enforced amendments to the maximum levels of deoxynivalenol (DON), a type of mycotoxin commonly found in cereals.

This move, outlined in Commission Regulation (EU) 2024/1022, aims to enhance food safety standards across the European Union (EU) by mitigating potential health risks associated with mycotoxin contamination.

In 2017, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) conducted a comprehensive assessment of the risks posed by DON and its acetylated and modified forms in food and feed.

EFSA concluded that while acute exposure to DON did not raise immediate health concerns, chronic dietary exposures, especially among infants, toddlers, and children, exceeded tolerable levels, warranting regulatory action.

Despite EFSA’s recommendation to set maximum levels for the sum of DON and its derivatives, limited occurrence data and inadequate routine analysis of these compounds have hindered regulatory efforts.

In response, the EC opted to lower existing maximum levels for DON as a precautionary measure, pending further data collection and analysis.

New maximum levels

The revised regulations introduce stricter maximum levels for DON in various food categories to minimize the risk of mycotoxin contamination.

Notable changes include lower maximum levels for unprocessed cereal grains, durum wheat, maize, and oats, to ensure food safety from farm to table.

Specific thresholds have also been spelt out for different food products, including cereals for consumers, milling products, bakery wares, pasta, baby food, and precooked polenta, tailored to mitigate health risks associated with mycotoxin exposure.

Understanding mycotoxin risks

Mycotoxins, such as DON, are secondary metabolites produced by fungi of the Fusarium genus, primarily infecting cereals like wheat, corn, oats, and barley.

Factors such as humidity, temperature, and soil conditions influence mycotoxin development, posing challenges for agricultural practices and food safety.

EFSA’s establishment of tolerable daily intake (TDI) and acute reference doses (ARfD) highlights the importance of monitoring mycotoxin levels to safeguard public health.

EFSA’s assessments extend beyond DON to encompass other Fusarium toxins, such as T-2 and HT-2 toxin, highlighting the multifaceted challenges posed by mycotoxin contamination.

While acute exposures to mycotoxins remain below established limits, chronic exposure presents potential health risks, particularly for vulnerable populations.

Ongoing research efforts focus on understanding the factors influencing mycotoxin development and exploring innovative strategies to mitigate contamination risks in agricultural practices and food processing.

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