When we meet someone for the first time and share what we do, it often seems to open the gateway to a game of 20 questions. “What do you think about the Paleo diet?” “It’s a good thing to give up gluten, right?” “Is a banana bad for me?” “So, do you always eat healthy?” When we’re asked these kinds of questions, we’re happy to answer them. We feel grateful that people feel comfortable enough to ask. Here's a recent question we were asked...and here's the answer!
Question: Are mycotoxins, such as aflatoxins, a real risk—and why?
Answer: Mycotoxins, toxins produced by certain fungi in and on food, do pose a threat to humans and animals. Aflatoxins—the most recognized and researched mycotoxins in the world—are detected occasionally in milk, cheese, almonds, figs, spices, and other sources, though peanuts, corn, and cottonseed are at highest risk for contamination. Aflatoxins are produced by the fungi Aspergillus flavus, which can occur in crops both before and after harvest due to high humidity and temperature. When ingested, inhaled, or absorbed through the skin, aflatoxins can cause acute sickness, such as aflatoxicosis, a disease primarily of the liver, and even potential death. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has also placed aflatoxin on the list of human carcinogens. Most countries, including the U.S., have adopted regulations that limit the amount of aflatoxins in all food designated for human consumption to not exceed 20 micrograms per kilogram. For example, the USDA maintains a comprehensive program of proper processing and destruction of high aflatoxin content in raw peanuts. So there’s no need to avoid eating wholesome foods, like peanuts or corn, for fear of contamination in the U.S. Even so, it’s a good idea to store your grains and nuts in a dry, cool environment.
This Q & A was written by McKenzie for the January 2014 issue of Environmental Nutrition.