Two studies have analyzed data from the European Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) portal to examine mycotoxins in nuts and hazards in seafood.

In the first study, scientists analyzed reports from RASFF on nuts and nut products contaminated with mycotoxins, from 2011 to 2021. 4,752 mycotoxin reports were published for food products worldwide, and 3,000 were in “nuts, nut products and seeds.” They included 1,545 for groundnuts, 795 for pistachios, 311 for hazelnuts, and 149 for almonds.

A total of 95 percent, or 2,669 reports, were from aflatoxins. More than half of these were reported for groundnuts, and 441 notices were for groundnuts from China. Border rejection was reported for 91 percent of the nuts and nut products exported to EU countries.

Groundnuts are susceptible to contamination because they grow in soil where the aflatoxin-producing fungus thrives.

The study, published in Food Research International, also covered Aflatoxin B1 and ochratoxin A, with 105 and 26 notifications, respectively.

Decline because of tighter controls
The frequency of RASFF notifications for nuts and nut products increased from 233 in 2012 to 443 in 2018 and decreased to 179 in 2021. Border rejections followed the same trend, likely due to stricter regulations issued by the EU Commission in 2019, said researchers.

The largest proportion of mycotoxin notifications received for groundnuts were exported from China, followed by Argentina. The United States was fifth. For pistachios, the U.S. was third, behind Iran and Turkey. The U.S. was the top place of origin for almonds, followed by Australia.

To tackle the issue, the Almond Board of California (ABC) ensures aflatoxin testing of almonds destined for export to the EU. 

Stringent EU mycotoxins regulations mean developing countries have to export their highest-quality nuts to prevent economic losses. However, this also means they may be consuming contaminated products internally.

“To prevent escalation of frequency of RASFF notifications, exporting countries must guarantee that their sampling procedures, validation of methods and results, and reporting comply with the regulation requirements enforced by the EU Commission. Rejected shipments should be adequately followed up to assess the root causes of contamination and in carrying out preventive measures,” said researchers.

Seafood findings
Meanwhile, another study published in the journal Water analyzed RASFF notifications for seafood from 1996 to 2020. It covered hazard, year, product, notifying country, country of origin, notification type and basis, distribution status, and action taken.

The primary reported hazards were microorganisms such as Listeria, Salmonella, E. coli, Vibrio, norovirus, and histamine; heavy metals like mercury and cadmium; veterinary products including nitrofuran, chloramphenicol and leucomalachite green; poor temperature control and hygiene; parasites such as Anisakis and additives or allergens including sulfites. 

Listeria was reported primarily in salmon over a wide range of time. This product was notified by Italy and originated mainly from Poland Denmark, Germany, and Vietnam.

Histamine was reported mainly in tuna and sardines. Italy and concerned products primarily transmitted notifications from Spain, Morocco, and Asian nations Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam. Notifications on heavy metals covered almost a fifth of all seafood alerts.

Anisakis was found mainly in mackerel and hake but also in anchovies, anglerfish, and squid. Italy, Greece, and Spain reported it in products originating from Croatia, Denmark, France, Norway, Spain, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand.

Other notifications included carbon monoxide in tuna, benzo(a)pyrene in sprats, Diarrhoeic Shellfish Poisoning (DSP) toxins in mussels, health certificates, packaging and foodborne outbreaks.

RASFF annual reports include information on the ten most frequently reported hazards. Common problems include mercury in fish from Spain and pathogens, such as E. coli and norovirus, in bivalve mollusks.

“To minimize or eliminate risks, it is important to have the right activity of control authorities, appropriate legislation at the European and national levels, and awareness at the different stages of the food chain,” according to the study.

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