The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has published a risk assessment on aflatoxins in food.
The report evaluates toxicity of aflatoxins to humans, estimates dietary exposure of the European Union population to these mycotoxins, and assesses the human health risks due to estimated dietary exposure. The risk assessment by the Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain is an update of similar work in 2007 and 2018.
It covers aflatoxin B1 (AFB1), AFB2, AFG1, AFG2 and AFM1. More than 200,000 analytical results on occurrence of aflatoxins were part of the evaluation. Grains and grain‐based products made the largest contribution to the mean chronic dietary exposure to AFB1 in all age groups, while liquid milk and fermented milk products were the main contributors to the AFM1 mean exposure.
The most frequently found aflatoxin in contaminated food is AFB1. Aflatoxin‐producing fungi are found in areas with a hot, humid climate and aflatoxins in food are a result of pre‐ and post‐harvest fungal contamination. Climate change is believed to impact their presence in Europe.
Possible health issues
In short‐term studies of seven to 90 days, AFB1 had negative effects on rodents including inhibition of normal growth, liver and kidney damage, and sustained alterations in the intestinal microbiota. For AFG1, AFG2, AFB2 or AFM1, no new short‐term toxicity or gut microbiota studies were identified.
AFB1 affects reproductive and developmental parameters and aflatoxins, especially AFB1, can produce an immunotoxic effect in rodents. The no‐observed‐adverse‐effect‐levels (NOAELs) for effects were around 30 μg/kg body weight (bw) per day.
There is evidence for genotoxic effects of AFB1 in pregnant mice, fetuses and young animals. It is not possible, based on available data, to make a quantitative comparison of the genotoxic potency of the other compounds. AFB1, AFG1 and AFM1 are carcinogenic when delivered orally via the diet.
The CONTAM panel said liver carcinogenicity of aflatoxins remains the pivotal effect for the risk assessment but in view of its genotoxic properties, it was not appropriate to establish a tolerable daily intake.
The highest AFB1 and AFT mean concentrations were for legumes, nuts and oilseeds, in particular pistachios, peanuts and other seeds. The top AFM1 mean concentrations were reported for milk and dairy products and milk‐based foods in the category food for infants and small children.
Public consultation feedback
In the international Codex Committee on Contaminants in Food, discussions on maximum levels and an associated sampling plan for aflatoxins in different foodstuffs are ongoing.
Maximum levels are set in EU regulation for AFB1 and the sum of AFB1, AFB2, AFG1 and AFG2 in tree nuts, apricot kernels, ground nuts (peanuts) and other oilseeds, dried fruit, cereals, and some spices as well as their processed products. For AFB1, limits exist for baby food and processed cereal‐based food for infants and young children and in dietary foods for special medical purposes intended for infants.
The panel said aflatoxin occurrence should continue to be monitored because of potential increases due to climate change using methods with high levels of sensitivity for detection.
The draft scientific opinion involved public consultation from October until November 2019 and had 14 comments from seven countries. Respondents included the Federation of European Rice Millers, European Flour Millers, European Dairy Association and European Snacks Association.
The U.K. Food Standards Agency, Istituto Superiore di Sanità in Italy, German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) and National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) also submitted comments.
EFSA has also published a scientific opinion on the risks for animal and human health of chlorinated paraffins in feed and food.
Chlorinated paraffins (CPs) are complex mixtures of polychlorinated n-alkanes. They may be released into the environment during product use and though incorrect disposal. There is also potential for contamination of the feed and food chain. CPs bio-concentrate in fish and mollusks and food is considered the main source of human exposure to them.
A preliminary risk characterization based on consumption of fish was performed, and calculated margins of exposure suggested no health concern.
This work also had a public consultation in August and September 2019 with 11 comments being received from seven countries including the BfR, RIVM and Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) in Germany.
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