Aflatoxin is a naturally occurring toxin produced by certain species of fungi, particularly Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus. These fungi can grow on various crops, including corn, peanuts, cottonseed, and tree nuts, mainly when grown or stored under warm, humid conditions.
The discovery of aflatoxin dates back to the 1960s when a mysterious outbreak of liver disease among turkeys in England was traced to contaminated peanut meal. Further investigations identified the toxin produced by Aspergillus fungi as the culprit. Subsequent studies showed that aflatoxin could contaminate many crops and pose a severe health risk to humans and animals.
Since then, efforts have been made to monitor and control aflatoxin contamination in food and feed. However, it remains a persistent problem in many parts of the world, particularly in developing countries where storage and handling practices may be suboptimal. Aflatoxin is now recognized as one of the most critical food safety issues worldwide, and efforts are ongoing to develop new strategies for prevention and control.
Aflatoxin can bring harm to humans and animals when ingested in high amounts. It is a potent carcinogen linked to liver damage, liver cancer, and other health problems. It can also suppress the immune system and cause growth and developmental problems in children. In animals, aflatoxin can cause illness, reduced growth rates, reproductive problems, and death. The severity of the harm depends on the level of exposure and the duration of exposure to the toxin.
Various methods can detect aflatoxin in contaminated food, including laboratory analysis, rapid test kits, and other screening tools. However, detecting aflatoxin can be challenging, as it may be present in low levels, distributed unevenly in a batch of contaminated food, and may vary in composition and potency depending on the specific strain of Aspergillus fungus that produced it.
Several analytical methods are available for detecting aflatoxin in food, such as high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), thin-layer chromatography (TLC), and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISA). These methods can detect deficient levels of aflatoxin. Still, they require specialized equipment and trained personnel and may take several hours or days to generate results.
Rapid test kits that use immunological or chemical reactions to detect aflatoxin have also been developed, which can provide results within a few minutes to a few hours. These kits are relatively simple and do not require specialized equipment or extensive training. However, they may not be as sensitive as laboratory methods, and false positive or negative results may occur.
Also, consumers cannot easily detect aflatoxin, as it is typically present at shallow levels and may not affect the appearance, taste, or smell of contaminated food. In addition, some food items commonly affected by aflatoxin, such as peanuts or peanut butter, may be processed or mixed with other ingredients that can dilute or mask the presence of the toxin.
Consumers can reduce their risk of exposure to aflatoxin by purchasing food products from reputable sources, storing food properly in cool, dry conditions, and avoiding foods that appear mouldy, discoloured, or otherwise suspicious. However, it is difficult for consumers to determine whether a food product is contaminated with aflatoxin without specialized testing or analysis.
Food regulatory agencies and other organizations monitor and test food products to ensure their safety and quality. In some countries, regulatory agencies have set maximum allowable levels of aflatoxin in certain food products. They may require food producers and importers to comply with these limits through testing and certification programs.
Overall, detecting aflatoxin in contaminated food is a complex process that requires careful selection of the appropriate method and proper sampling and handling of the food samples.
Since aflatoxin can not be detected easily, that will be useful to know a bit about the symptoms of aflatoxin poisoning. The symptoms of aflatoxin poisoning may vary depending on the level and duration of exposure, as well as the affected person’s age, health status, and other individual factors. In general, acute exposure to high levels of aflatoxin can cause the following symptoms: abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhoea, jaundice, loss of appetite, fatigue, and weight loss.
Long-term exposure to lower levels of aflatoxin may increase the risk of liver cancer and other health problems, such as poor growth and development in children and immune suppression. Aflatoxin exposure can also adversely affect animals, causing reduced growth rates, decreased milk production, and other health problems.
Suppose you suspect that you or someone else may have been exposed to aflatoxin. In that case, it is vital to seek medical attention as soon as possible. A healthcare provider can perform tests and provide treatment as needed to manage the symptoms and prevent further harm.