Mycotoxins

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Changed on: 27.02.2017

Mycotoxins are fungal toxins. They are natural, so-called secondary metabolic products of fungi that have a toxic effect on humans and animals, i.e. cause mycotoxicosis. Not included among mycotoxins are toxins contained in certain higher fungi (e.g. amanita).

In contrast to the products of primary metabolism, these secondary metabolic products are not found in all organisms, rather they are characteristic of what produces them.

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Mycotoxins are fungal toxins. They are natural, so-called secondary metabolic products of fungi that have a toxic effect on humans and animals, i.e. cause mycotoxicosis. Not included among mycotoxins are toxins contained in certain higher fungi (e.g. amanita).

In contrast to the products of primary metabolism, these secondary metabolic products are not found in all organisms, rather they are characteristic of what produces them.

More information

Effect

Effect

The following table shows the effects of various mycotoxins (DON = deoxynivalenol, ZON = zearalenone, T-2 = T-2 mycotoxin, NIV = nivalenol, FUM = fumonisins, OTA = ochratoxin A, AFL = aflatoxins)

Table 1: Effects of selected mycotoxins
  DON ZON T-2 NIV FUM OTA AFL
skin irritant     x x      
causes nausea x   x x      
immunosuppressant x   x x   x  
necrotising     x        
oestrogenic   x          
mutagenic   (x)       (x) x
carcinogenic         (x) (x) x
nephrotoxic         x x x
hepatotoxic              

Particularly at risk are production animals (especially pigs, poultry and horses) that consume mouldy feed. Contaminated feed is responsible for a series of diseases, such as estrogenic syndrome in pigs, feed refusal or illness in turkeys.

While in the past mycotoxins were a frequent source of illness in humans that often even led to death (e.g. ergot poisoning), today mycotoxins no longer present such an acute threat to humans due to high-quality foodstuff production. Today the emphasis is on minimising the mycotoxin risk, which also relates just as much to non-acute effects such as carcinogenic impact. EU regulations regarding contaminants are now addressing the problem of mycotoxins to a greater extent and specify maximum and reference limits (see appended overview of maximum and reference limits for mycotoxins as pdf) / available only in German).    

Safety

Safety

Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 884/2014 - imposing special conditions governing the import of certain feed and food from certain non-EU states due to contamination risk by aflatoxins

Aflatoxins (aflatoxin B1, B2, G1 and G2) are currently the most harmful mycotoxins (carcinogenic) that are regulated with maximum levels (Regulation (EU) 1881/2006, Directive 2002/32/EC). Aflatoxins can occur in nuts, spices and dried fruit, but also in cereal/maize. The EU is confronted primarily with an import problem when it comes to aflatoxins, since the contaminated products mainly come from non-EU states. To prevent non-compliant products from entering the European Community, specific provisions have been implemented, i.e. Regulation (EU) 884/2014 following, amongst other things, notifications from Europe’s Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) in accordance with Regulation (EC) No 178/2002. Amongst other things the regulation specifies the products likely to be contaminated with aflatoxins along with their countries of origin and sets monitoring frequencies for these.

Regulation (EC) 669/2009 – on risks concerning imports of certain feed and food of non-animal origin

This regulation sets increased levels of official controls on imports of certain feed and food of non-animal origin. The feeds and foods and their countries of origin and their associated risks (e.g. contamination or other harmful substances) are listed in Annex I. Specific monitoring frequencies are also set for these. This annex is updated several times a year.

Agriculture

Agriculture

In Austria (in contrast to the Scandinavian countries for example) the mycotoxin problem occurs in the field. Particularly affected are cereals (wheat, oats) and maize that are contaminated with mycotoxins mainly through infestation of field fungi of the genus fusarium.

In addition to the fusarium toxins listed in the table below, the following are also of importance: fumonisin B1 and B2 in maize or maize products (F. proliferatum), T-2 mycotoxin and HT-2 mycotoxin in oats (F. sporotrichioides and F. langsethiae).

Maize Wheat OatsToxins Formed
F. subglutinans
F. graminearum


F. graminearum



F. avenaceum
F. poae

F. graminearum



F. avenaceum
F. poae
Moniliformin
Zearalenon,
Deoxynivalenol (Vomitoxin)
15-Acetyldeoxynivalenol
3-Acetyldeoxynivalenol
Moniliformin
Nivalenol

Table: important fusaria on cereals in Austria with their fusarium toxins (selection)

Fungal infection

Fungal infection

Factors influencing fungal infection

Weather conditions: warm damp conditions during flowering period promote fusarium infection.
European corn borer: the caterpillars of the European corn borer facilitate the Incidence of fusaria due to the damage they cause by feeding on maize plants.

Corn stubble in the field: the fungus survives through the winter due to not clearing stubble from the field. When corn maize is the crop preceding winter wheat (in crop rotation), increased infestation of the wheat is also be expected.

Minimal soil cultivation: non-turning soil cultivation is one of the risk factors with regard to fusarium infestation of the subsequent crop (especially noticeable in non-till crop farming after maize).

Choice of strains: with wheat, different strains are graded with respect to their resistance to fusaria. Care should be taken with maize in particular to select a strain appropriate for the location.

Time of harvest: since the grain kernel is very susceptible to fungal attack when ripe, the harvest must not be delayed unnecessarily. Any precipitation at the time of full maturity encourages fungal infestation.

Storage: if the moisture content of the harvested crop is less than 13%, fungal infection by storage fungi (e.g.penicillium, aspergillus) does not subsequently occur. Mycotoxins are also scarcely formed when the moisture content is less than 17% (NB: storage toxins, aflatoxins and ochratoxin A only play a subordinate role regarding Austrian cereals).

Cleaning the harvested crop: thorough cleaning can also greatly reduce fusarium toxin levels. Aspirating and weight sorting are most effective. Oats can be cleaned better than wheat.

Testing

Testing

Reflecting current opinion and Austria’s own experience, the following mycotoxin parameters have been suggested for the analysis of cereals, maize and their products as well as for feedstuffs (table below).

In the field of foodstuffs, information regarding possible mycotoxin contaminations can be obtained from the relevant regulations (see also the overview of maximum limits and reference limits for mycotoxins). 
 

ABZONFUMERGOTAFLOTAObservation
Cereals, fodder cereals, cereal products (wheat, triticale >> rye, barley)
Ergot in rye
Cereals, fodder cereals, cereal products (wheat, triticale >> rye, barley)

Imported goods
Ergot in rye

Soya, soya products
Oats, oat products, cereal products with oats
Oats, oat products, cereal products with oatsImported goods
Maize, maize products, cereal products with maize
Maize, maize products, cereal products with maizeImported goods
Grass, hay, ...

Table: selected mycotoxin analysis recommendations (suggestion) ●  recommendation;  
A = A-trichothecenes (T-2 mycotoxin, HT-2 mycotoxin)
B = B-trichothecenes (deoxynivalenol, nivalenol, 3-acetyldeoxynivalenol, 15-acetyldeoxynivalenol and Fusarenon X); ZON = zearalenone; ERGOT = ergot alkaloids; FUM = fumonisins B1 and B2; AFL = aflatoxins B1, B2, G1, G2; OTA = Ochratoxin A

Testing

Testing

The Department of Contamination Analysis (KONA) at the Institute for Food Safety Linz is nominated as the National Reference Laboratory for mycotoxins.

Due to the very heterogeneous mycotoxin distribution in individual products, a standardised sampling method is one of the most important preconditions for the evaluation of the risk posed by mycotoxins. Both the sampling procedure and the criteria for sample processing and analytical methods are set out for foodstuffs in Regulation (EC) No 401/2006 and for feed in Regulation (EC) No 152/2009. See also the various relevant standards (EN).

Accredited special analytical procedures are used at KONA, part of AGES GmbH for the measurement of mycotoxins in raw cereals, feed and foodstuffs. The table details the respective principles for analysis.

ParameterExtraction Clean upDerivatisation Separation ProcedureDetection
A-Trichothecene (T-2, HT-2)Acetonitrile/waterMycosep, IASMSTFAGCMS
B-TrichotheceneAcetonitrile/waterMycosepTMSGC (2 columns)EC
15+2 MykotoxineAcetonitrile/water/acetic acidHPLCMS-MS
DeoxynivalenolAcetonitrile/waterIASHPLCDAD
ZearalenonAcetonitrile/waterIASHPLCFL
Fumonisin B1, B2Acetonitrile/methanol/waterIAS(pre-column derivatisation.)HPLCFL
Ochratoxin AAcetonitrile/waterIASHPLCFL
Aflatoxin B1, B2, G1, G2Acetone/water or methanol/waterIASPBPB (post-column derivatisation)HPLCFL
Aflatoxin M1WaterIASHPLCFL
ErgotalkaloideEthyl acetate/methanol/propanolSPEHPLCFL
PatulinEthyl acetate/hexaneSPEHPLCDAD
AlternariatoxineAcetonitrile/methanol/waterSPEHPLCFL

 Table: analytical procedures (accredited special analysis) - principle

A-trichothecene (measurement using isotope dilution GC/MS) = T-2 mycotoxin, HT-2 mycotoxin;
B-trichothecenes = deoxynivalenol, nivalenol, 3-acetyldeoxynivalenol, 15-acetyldeoxynivalenol and Fusarenon X;
IAS = immunoaffinity sorbent; SPE = solid phase extraction
MSTFA, TMS: derivatisation by silylation; PBPB: pyridinium bromide perbromide: OPA: ortho-phthaldialdehyde
GC = gas chromatography; HPLC = high performance liquid chromatography
EC:  electron capture detector; FL: fluorescence detector; DAD = diode array detector
MS= mass spectrometry (MS-MS = dilute & shoot method using stable isotope dilution analysis and triple quadrupole tandem mass spectrometry)


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