Food Contaminants

Mycotoxins are secondary metabolites produced by many genera of fungi that frequently contaminate food and feed worldwide. Well-known examples are the mycotoxin group of aflatoxins (AFs) and ochratoxin A (OTA) mainly produced by Aspergillus spp., as well as fumonisins (FBs), zearalenone (ZEN) and deoxynivalenol (DON) produced by Fusarium spp. So called “emerging mycotoxins” have gained more and more attention during the last decades including Alternaria toxins produced by Alternaria spp., like alternariol (AOH), alternariol monomethyl ether (AME), altertoxins (ATX), tenuazonic acid (TeA) and others.

Food preparation procedures often do not reduce mycotoxin contents in food and feed, due to the thermal and chemical stability of many of these compounds. The acute toxic, genotoxic and mutagenic effects of mycotoxins can cause disorders and diseases in humans and animals, e.g. the development of cancer in different organs and tissues, immunomodulation, kidney disorders, stunting and endocrine changes [1, 2].

More than 300 mycotoxins are known, but only 40 compounds are regulated and monitored by national or international food regulation authorities, up to now. This may lead to an underestimation of actual food and feed contamination patterns, as well as the actual health risk for both humans and animals.

The Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST) estimated the overall global contamination of agricultural products to be around 25% [3, 4].

Therefore, it is of high importance to pursue further toxicological characterizations and exposure evaluations for mycotoxins, in order to determine a more detailed risk assessment and initiate an improved risk prevention management.


[1] Bennett, J. W., Klich, M. (2003). Mycotoxins. Clin Microbiol Rev, 16, 497-516.

[2] Turner, P. C., Flannery, B., et al. (2012). The role of biomarkers in evaluating human health concerns from fungal contaminants in food. Nutr Res Rev, 25, 162-179.

[3] CAST, 2003. Mycotoxins – risks in plant, animal and human systems, Task Force Report, No. 139. Council for Agricultural Science and Technology, Ames, Iowa, pp.11-99.

[4] Uhlig, S., Eriksen, G., et al. (2013). Faces of a changing climate: semi-quantitative multi-mycotoxin analysis of grain grown in exceptional climatic conditions in Norway. Toxins, 5, 1682-1697.