Over the years, many horrifying stories surrounding aflatoxins have spread all over the news. However, very few people have a glimpse of what aflatoxins actually are. This article will have a detailed look at what aflatoxins are, the food they affect, and how to avoid and mitigate their health risks.
An aflatoxin is a type of mycotoxin. The term aflatoxin refers to a common name for specific secondary metabolites produced by aspergillus fungi. They occur as natural molds and are concentrated primarily in food supply areas with wet and warm climates. Under certain conditions, aflatoxins from dead and decaying vegetation invade food crops.
Recorded Effects of Aflatoxins
Aflatoxins came into the limelight after a disease outbreak that affected turkeys of unknown etiology in England in 1960. Since then, various scientific researches have been conducted to understand how aflatoxins affect humans. Researchers have concluded that aflatoxins do cause not only health risks but also economic burdens.
For example, in Sri Lanka, there are media speculations about imported coconut oil consignments contaminated with aflatoxins. Unfortunately, there is a lack of basic biological understanding among Sri Lanka people; they think the only way aflatoxin can enter the body is through contaminated oil consumption.
The truth is, many goods being consumed by Sri Lankan citizens contain aflatoxins. The solution to this menace is getting the coconut oil tested for aflatoxins and introducing good manufacturing practices to the industries.
Another example of food mostly affected by aflatoxins is rice. Rice is the main staple that is usually boiled into parboiled in Sri Lanka. Mostly, rice and corn are affected by aflatoxin in agricultural practices.
How Do Aflatoxins Affect Food?
These chemicals can affect food during production, processing, transport, and storage. Poor storage conditions (warm and humid environments) are the leading causes of aflatoxin contamination in food. These foods include but are not limited to; rice, maize, cassava, millet, peanut, sorghum, and sesame seeds.
Additionally, it’s important to note that food processing is insufficient to eliminate aflatoxin from contaminating food. When contaminated food is processed, it enters the food supply, affecting pets, human, and livestock feeds.
Health risks From Aflatoxin Intake
Health risks associated with aflatoxins can be both acute and long-term. These chemicals can be teratogenic (cause congenital disabilities in children), mutagenic (cause cell DNA mutation), carcinogenic (cause cancer), immunotoxic (affect immune health), and hepatotoxic (cause liver cell and destruction). Additionally, the chemicals can also have adverse health effects on reproduction organs.
Tracking a Plausible Solution
There is a need for a formation of a comprehensive multi-sectoral approach to control the aflatoxin problem. These solutions may include effective policies and regulations to raise awareness of safe, high-quality food for consumers. Additionally, there is a need for improved technology and improved food production quality.
Another solution to the aflatoxin problem is imposing market mechanisms that can regulate and ensure proper food storage. Furthermore, strategists can develop an efficient withdrawal of contaminated food and find an effective alternative for their use. With the above solutions, food safety agencies can achieve a significant milestone in curbing the aflatoxin issue.