Mycotoxin contamination and food safety concerns

Vanessa Cowan and Barry Blakley, from the University of Saskatchewan, discuss the safety risks associated with mycotoxin contamination of food and animal feeds.

mycotoxin contamination

Mycotoxins are toxic metabolites produced by a wide variety of fungal species and mycotoxin contamination is a worldwide problem. Many mycotoxins are extremely potent chemicals and produce a variety of diseases in both humans and animals. Contamination of feeds with minute quantities can cause severe clinical disease.

Diseases associated with mycotoxin contamination of feeds have been recognised for centuries. During the middle ages, many people consuming rye bread contaminated with ergot mycotoxins during periods of famine developed a disease known as St Anthony’s Fire. Reduced blood flow and gangrene often caused a burning sensation in the limbs. In other individuals, the ergot alkaloids produced hallucinations and abnormal behaviour. During the Salem Witch Trials, those persecuted as witches are now thought to have been experiencing ergot poisoning. Several of the ergot alkaloids chemically resemble the hallucinogen lysergic acid – an association that provides a plausible explanation for this ‘witch-like’ behaviour.

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