About mycotoxins

Mycotoxins are becoming increasingly stressed food safety issues. The most frequent alarms are related to aflatoxin. Aflatoxins may get into the human body with food consequently the permitted limit value in food and feed is more and more strictly regulated.


It is no coincidence that mycotoxins are called “hidden killers” as well. Mycotoxins in feed can cause reproductive-biological problems, they can increase animals’ susceptibility to certain diseases, and in the case of cattle they can reduce milk production as well. Mycotoxin contamination can significantly affect the value of crop and alter the performance of the economy/ agriculture. Significant revenue losses can occur if the grain or feed can only be sold below market price, or the shipment is reversed at receipt due to toxin contamination.


The permissible mycotoxin contamination levels are regulated by law, so both for producer and distributor, it is important to be familiar with, to introduce and to apply detection methods. As mycotoxins usually cause damage even at low concentrations, it is essential that methods of the highest possible sensitivity be available for their detection.


ELISA kits, distributed by Soft Flow Hungary Ltd. at competitive prices, are capable of the rapid and effective, quantitative detection of the six most important mycotoxins.


The most important mycotoxins are: aflatoxins, trichothecenes, fumonisins, zeralenons, ochratoxin A and ergot alkaloids.


Aflatoxins: are produced, above all, by Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus paraziticus species. Aspergillus species can be found mainly in maize, cotton and peanuts. Aspergillus flavus causes maize rot. Chronic inflammation, liver damage, tumor formation may occur. Aflatoxins are furano-coumarin derivatives. It is typical of these toxins that they are produced almost exclusively on oilseeds, at a temperature of 30-35 °C and above 80% relative humidity. We know of the occurrence of more than 10 kinds of aflatoxins in nature, aflatoxin B1 is the most toxic among them.


Fumonisins: are mycotoxins that have been known since 1988, and which are classified into four groups. From a toxicological point of view, fuminozins in Group B (FB1, FB2, FB3, FB4) are the most important ones. FB1 is the most common and most abundant mycotoxin, which is a threat to public health. Fusarium verticillioides mold, which causes various corn diseases (Fusarium ear and stalk rot, and seed rot), is a major producer of fumonisins. In animals, mostly in horses and pigs, it causes serious diseases, but their carcinogenic effect has also been shown in rodents.


Trichothecenes: form a large family of mycotoxins, which are produced by several fungi, but especially by Fusarium and Stachybotritis species. The most frequent trichothecene is DON (deoxynivalenol or vomitoxin), which occurs mainly in wheat, barley and maize; or another common tirchotecene called T2 toxin. Like other Fusarium toxins, they are also produced at a low temperature (0-10 °C), thus mainly during winter grain storage, attention has to be paid to avoid infection caused by Fusarium species, and to proper storage of cereals.


These toxins attack the blood-forming (hematopoietic) system, they are strong cell poisons, their harmful effect on the nervous system and the immune system has also been shown. In addition, they can cause digestive abnormalities. They are/may be present in grain-crops and in processed grain products (bread, malt, beer), but DON contamination has also been shown in baby food, in addition to wheat flour and bread. They cause especially great losses to pig and poultry husbandry as they reduce feed consumption, inhibit protein synthesis, and thus impair the efficiency of meat and egg production. Animals refuse DON contaminated feed, or if they consume it nevertheless, it may induce vomiting in higher concentrations.


Zearalenone (F2) toxin: it is mainly produced by Fusarium gramineanum and Fusarium roseum species of fungus. It is an estrogen analogue compound, and regarding its chemical structure, it is a derivative of coumarin. In addition to estrogen-like effects, it can cause cervical inflammation (cervicitis) in pigs too. It can often be found with trichothecenes, mainly in barley, wheat, oats and maize.


Ochratoxin A (OTA): mainly produced by Penicillium verrucosum species of fungus. It is a β-phenylalanine compound, a chlorine derivative therefore it is much more toxic than variant B. It is the most common among the toxins produced by storage molds. It is produced in a wide temperature range of 4-30 °C. It causes severe kidney damage (mostly detected in pigs) and it has a teratogenic effect (damages reproductive organs and poses a hazard to the foetus). It has been shown both in animals that consume toxin-contaminated feed and in the milk produced by them, thus it is a toxin indirectly dangerous to humans as well.


The presence of OTA has been shown around the world in different foods, especially cereals, cereal products, pulses, coffee, beer, grape juice, raisins, wine, cocoa, nuts and spices. In addition to these foods it can be detected in offal and blood as well.


Mycotoxins can be grouped according to the fact whether they are produced by so-called warehouse or field molds, that is, whether fungi produce them already in the field or during storage.


Representatives of major shelf molds: Aspergillus and Penicillium species; major mycotoxins produced by them: aflatoxins, ochratoxin A, citrinin, patulin, ergot toxins


Field molds: Fusarium species; main mycotoxins: Zearalenone (F2 toxin), trichothecenes (T2, DON), fumonisins