Fungi contaminate fruits, nuts, cereals, milk, spices and derived products. They grow on the surface and also invade food, although sometimes they are not visible to the naked eye. Some species of fungi produce secondary metabolites, such as mycotoxins, harmful to humans and animals.
Mycotoxins are colorless, odorless and most of them are thermostable. Some mycotoxins are considered by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as the strongest carcinogenic elements. Mycotoxins cause acute or chronic poisoning, depending on the amount consumed and its type. In addition to cancer, they can affect the digestive, nervous and immune systems.
Due to its high risk, the presence of mycotoxins is regulated in many countries. And they cause great economic losses due to the rejection of possible contaminated food. In the European Union, maximum limits are regulated, as well as the measurement and sampling methods implementation for the quantification of mycotoxins in food (ECs 1881/2006 and 401/2006). In October (2020) alone, the European Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF), issued 38 alerts related to mycotoxins.
The formation of mycotoxins in food can occur either during pre and post harvest, or during storage. Therefore, food needs to be stored properly, safely. Good agricultural practices, good manufacturing practices and, Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) are important for the control and minimization of food contamination by mycotoxins.
The consumer needs to reduce exposure to mycotoxins so it is important to note that something “natural" is not automatically safe. Damaged and discolored foods should be discarded. Food must be stored following the instructions of the producer. It is advisable to avoid insects, humidity and heat, since preventing the growth of fungi is a way of preventing the production of mycotoxins.