Aflatoxin belongs to a group of fungal toxins known as mycotoxins. It is produced by the Aspergillus species. Aspergillus is green, but aflatoxin is colorless, tasteless and odourless.
Aspergillus is widespread in soils and release aflatoxin under favourable temperature (28-33℃) and humidity. Aflatoxin is commonly found in peanuts, corns, grains and grain products. Some dairy and meat products are found to be associated with aflatoxin through consumption of feeds contaminated with aflatoxin. Aflatoxin is heat-stable and thus, cannot be destroyed by cooking.
What are the health effects?
Human health is mainly affected through consumption of foods contaminated with aflatoxin. There are acute and chronic effects:
1. Acute effects: Ingestion of foods that contain high levels of aflatoxin in a short period of time may cause acute food poisoning, but this is rarely occurred in developed countries. Symptoms include fever, vomiting and jaundice. Severe cases may lead to liver damage or even death.
2. Chronic effects: Low levels of aflatoxin may be found in foods. Long term exposure of aflatoxin may lead to liver cancer.
How to reduce aflatoxin induced food risk?
As there is no way to eliminate fungal growth, we should take some preventive measures to minimise aflatoxin in foods and animal feeds. Tripartite collaboration amongst the government, food trade and consumers is the key to safeguard food safety.
Safety Tips to the Industry
1. Select carefully. Purchase food ingredients from reputable and licensed suppliers.
2. Keep invoice or receipts for product tracing.
3. Store properly. All food ingredients should be stored in dry and cool environment to minimise the production of aflatoxin.
4. Practise stock rotation on a First in First out (FIFO) basis. Food ingredients should be used as soon as possible.
5. Discard any food ingredients that look mouldy. Do not just remove the mouldy part.
Safety Tips to the Public
1. Purchase smartly. Purchase from reliable and reputable shops. Observe whether foods are stored in dry and cool condition.
2. Consume as soon as possible. Watch out the durability of foods and consume before the expiry date.
3. Purchase in small amount. Avoid stocking up excessive foods.
4. Store properly. Store foods in dry and cool environment and away from direct sunlight.
5. Discard any foods that are damaged, looked mouldy or moist. Do not just remove the mouldy part.