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Food Safety 101: How to Avoid Mycotoxins in Food (Is it Possible?)

Food is the source of life on earth. And the earth consists of a real source of plant-based food. The question regarding how to avoid mycotoxins in food is this:

Is it even possible to eliminate mycotoxins from our food?

The list of mycotoxins that can sneak their way into your food is quite long.

In fact:

There are over 300 identified mycotoxins and 6 of these mycotoxins are commonly found in our food. So how safe is the food we eat?

To Find out whether you are doing enough to save yourself from these environmental toxins, start by asking yourself the following:

  • Do you wash your vegetables before cooking?
  • Do you cook your vegetables thoroughly?

There are several chemical processes involved in the growth and production of food, including chemicals, nutrients, and microorganisms derived by the plants from sunlight, water, soil, and air.

During this growth and reproduction, certain chemicals may react and produce compounds that are not healthy for human or animal consumption. These are called toxins or mycotoxins.

In this article, we’ll explain what mycotoxins are and how they affect human health in the most oblivious ways.

The first thing you need to know is…

What are Mycotoxins?

In order to understand how to avoid mycotoxins in food, you must first have knowledge of what mycotoxins are.

When microorganisms grow, certain chemical compounds are produced which are not directly needed by these microorganisms for growth. These compounds are called secondary metabolites. Mycotoxins are also the secondary metabolites of a kind of fungi.

Mycotoxins are specifically the toxic chemical products produced by fungi found on crops. There are many naturally occurring toxins from fungi but the ones that most commonly affect us and are the most significant include Ochratoxins and Aflatoxins.

Not all Mycotoxins are bad for humans. There are some uses for pharmacological activities that are used in antibiotics, growth promoters, and drugs. However, many other kinds of Mycotoxins are more of a chemical warfare agent for mankind and animals.

Mycotoxins have always been present in our environment. But the question arises: what are the reasons they have become more of a menace today than ever before?

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Factors Affecting Mycotoxin Production

Temperature and humidity are among the top factors that promote the growth and development of bacteria, fungi, and most viruses. The rising temperatures around the world and global warming have been linked to the increased growth of mycotoxins in our food. Different temperatures give rise to different species of mycotoxins. Hence, mycotoxins found in tropical regions may differ from those found in other parts of the world. However, the overall factors that help mycotoxins grow include the following:

  • Temperature
  • Humidity
  • Water
  • PH of the surfaces surrounding fungi. (Acidic surfaces promote growth of fungi and mycotoxins.)
  • Fungal strain
  • Substrate
  • Climate change

Mycotoxins in Food: How Do They Enter Our Food Chain?

There are a lot of foods high in mycotoxins, but how did they get that way?

Learning how to avoid Mycotoxins in food starts with understanding that they can sneak into our food chain through crops. They can grow on crops before harvest or after harvest during transportation or storage. When humans or animals ingest or inhale these foods, the mycotoxins enter their bodies and can wreak havoc. They can cause toxicity of mild to acute levels in humans and animals.

Mycotoxins are commonly found in:

  • Maturing corn
  • Cereals
  • Sorghum
  • Wheat
  • Rice
  • Soybean
  • Peanut
  • Sunflower and cotton seeds
  • Spices (chili peppers, black pepper, coriander, turmeric and ginger)
  • Nuts, ( pistachios, walnuts, coconuts, almonds, and Brazil nuts)
  • Other food and feed crops in the fields

Other than these direct sources of mycotoxins, these harmful toxins can also sneak into our food through indirect sources of food, for example, animal products like milk, eggs, and meat.

Animals who consume mycotoxins-contaminated food get affected by these toxins and their milk, eggs, or meat may also contain residues or metabolites of mycotoxins. Thus, humans get to experience the adverse effects of toxins whether they consume contaminated feed or plants directly or not.

Mycotoxins Health Effects

Why Are Mycotoxins a Risk to Human Health?

Many studies have proved that the consumption of mycotoxin-contaminated food caused different diseases in humans and animals. From Athlete’s foot to cancer, there are many diseases and health risks associated with them. The risks of Mycotoxins include the following:

  • Kidney damage.
  • Issues with fetal development.
  • Adverse effects on the immune system.
  • Produces carcinogens in animal species that may lead to cancer.
  • May cause liver cancer in humans.
  • May also cause rapid irritation to the skin or intestinal mucosa.
  • Can lead to diarrhea.

How Safe is the Food We Eat? Can We Actually Get Rid of Mycotoxins in Food?

Learning how to avoid mycotoxins in food, comes down to one thing: protecting your food with food safety and hygiene.

When it comes to food safety and hygiene, this is the million-dollar question. While most bacteria are presumed to be eliminated from our food after boiling or washing, mycotoxins may not totally leave our food. Some studies show that their concentration is reduced in the finished product after food processing (milling, steeping, and extrusion) and (dehulling, washing, sorting, and cleaning of moldy seed manually) as compared to the raw plant-based products. But they may not be completely eliminated.

So, what are the management strategies?

Living with Mycotoxins –Food Safety and Hygiene

Technically, these toxins won’t be completely eliminated from the food chain. That means if you wanted to know how to avoid mycotoxins in food, it might not be entirely possible. However, there are certain steps that may help us minimize our exposure to mycotoxins.

The US Food and Drug Administration has a set of guidelines for food products that test the food for the presence of harmful toxins. Similarly, European and Japanese authorities have their own standards for food safety.

This is what government bodies are doing to make our food safe. But what we as individuals can do to prevent exposure to ourselves by practicing “food safety 101” is as follows. WHO provides the following guidelines to minimize our risk to Mycotoxins:

  • Inspect the food grains for mold, discoloration or shrivel.
  • Avoid damage to grains on the farms and in storage or during transportation as damaged grain is more prone to developing mycotoxins.
  • Buy fresh grains and nuts.
  • Store food properly in a cool, dry place.
  • Do not keep foods stored for extended time periods.
  • Ensure a diverse diet. Include all food groups to reduce exposure to mycotoxins and benefit from complete nutrition.

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Safety With Food: What You Can Do to Protect Your Food

If you’re interested in how to avoid mycotoxins in food, then you need to know that diversification in food leads to healthy, complete, and balanced nutrition.

It does not only help reduce your exposure to Mycotoxins but also boosts the immune system to help fight off external toxins from the body naturally. I can help you design a complete diet chart with diverse food groups customized to your needs. Get in touch for food safety guidelines.

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