Toxigenic Fungi And Fungal Mycotoxins In Food- An Overview

Fungal mycotoxins are toxic compounds that are naturally produced by certain types of moulds (fungi) that grow on food and feed products under warm and humid conditions. They are secondary metabolites that have no apparent function in the normal metabolism of fungi, but they can cause a variety of adverse health effects and pose a serious health threat to both humans and livestock.

Mycotoxins can contaminate food and feed at different stages of the food chain, from pre-harvest to post-harvest, during storage, processing and feeding. They can affect a wide range of crops and foodstuffs, such as cereals, nuts, spices, dried fruits, coffee beans, milk and dairy products. Most mycotoxins are chemically stable and survive food processing.

Several hundred different mycotoxins have been identified so far, but the most commonly observed mycotoxins that present a concern to human health and livestock include aflatoxins, ochratoxin A, patulin, fumonisins, zearalenone and nivalenol/deoxynivalenol. These mycotoxins have different chemical structures, biological properties and toxic effects.

The effects of some food-borne mycotoxins are acute, with symptoms of severe illness appearing quickly after consumption of contaminated food products. Other mycotoxins have long-term effects on health, such as immune deficiency, cancer, organ damage and reproductive disorders. The severity of the effects depends on several factors, such as the type and amount of mycotoxin ingested, the duration and frequency of exposure, the age, health and nutritional status of the individual, and the possible interactions with other toxins or pathogens.

Mycotoxins can also cause economic losses for farmers and food industries due to reduced crop yields, lower quality of products, increased costs of testing and monitoring, decreased animal performance and productivity, increased veterinary expenses and trade barriers.

Therefore, it is important to prevent and control the occurrence of mycotoxins in food and feed products by adopting good agricultural practices (GAP), good manufacturing practices (GMP), good storage practices (GSP) and good hygiene practices (GHP). It is also essential to monitor the levels of mycotoxins in food and feed products by using reliable detection and analysis methods. Furthermore, it is necessary to establish international standards and regulations to limit the exposure to mycotoxins from certain foods based on scientific risk assessments.