Mycotoxins

Aflatoxins

Aflatoxins are produced primarily by two species of the Aspergillus fungus which are especially found in areas with hot, humid climates.  

They are found in food as a result of fungal contamination, both pre- and post-harvest. Temperature, humidity, soil and storage conditions all affect the rate and degree of contamination.

They are most commonly associated with groundnuts, tree nuts, dried fruit, spices, figs, crude vegetable oils, cocoa beans, maize, rice, cottonseed and copra. 

Aflatoxin M1 is a major metabolite of aflatoxin B1 (AFB1) in humans and animals and may be present in milk from animals fed on AFB1 contaminated feed.

Exposure to aflatoxins is generally considered to occur mainly from imported materials, however, climate change is expected to affect the presence of aflatoxins in food in Europe. 

 

EU Legislation

 

 

EU guidance documents

Increased Control Measures 

For emergency measures and temporary increased controls that may apply please visit our section on import controls

National Legislation

Statutory Instrument No. 218 of 2010 as amended (please visit Irish Statute Book website for amendments)

Ochratoxin A

Ochratoxin A (OTA) is a mycotoxin produced by several fungal species of the genera Penicillium and Aspergillus, which can contaminate food commodities prior to harvest or more commonly during storage.  

OTA contamination of food commodities, including cereals and cereal products, pulses, coffee, beer, grape juice, dry vine fruits, wine, cacao products, nuts and spices, among others, has been reported.

EU Legislation

EU guidance documents

Guidance document on Identification of Mycotoxins in Food and Feed (supplements the "Specific requirements for confirmatory methods" from Annex II of Commission Regulation (EC) No 401/2006)

Increased Control Measures

 For emergency measures and temporary increased controls that may apply please visit our section on import controls

 

National Legislation

Statutory Instrument No. 218 of 2010 as amended (please visit Irish Statute Book website for amendments)

Patulin

Patulin is a mycotoxin produced by a number of fungal species in the genera Penicillium, Aspergillus and Byssochlamys of which Penicillium expansum is probably the most commonly encountered species.  

Patulin has been found as a contaminant in many mouldy fruits, vegetables, cereals and other foods, however, the major sources of contamination are apples and apple products.

EU Legislation

EU guidance documents

Increased Control Measures

 

For emergency measures and temporary increased controls that may apply please visit our section on import controls 

National Legislation

Statutory Instrument No. 218 of 2010 as amended (please visit Irish Statute Book website for amendments)

Deoxynivalenol

Deoxynivalenol (DON) belongs to the large group of mycotoxins called trichothecenes, which represent the main group of Fusarium toxins. 

DON is predominantly produced by the plant pathogenic fungi of the Fusarium genus, mainly by Fusarium graminearum and Fusarium culmorum. These fungi grow on the cereals in the field, preferably at temperate climates and are commonly found in Europe. Crop infection by Fusarium is dependent on the weather and is favoured by high humidity at the time of flowering. 

Cereal grains intended for food may also become contaminated during storage. DON is chemically stable and to some extent resistant to thermal processing. As a result, DON is found in cereal-based foods ready for consumption. DON occurs predominantly in cereal grains such as wheat, barley, oats, rye and maize. During milling, DON is expected to concentrate in the fractions containing the outer parts of the grain. Thus, the highest levels of DON are observed, for example, in the germ and bran while the flour contain lower levels than those found in the grain before dry milling.

DON can co-occur in grains and in cereal-based food together with its acetyl derivatives; 3-acetyl deoxynivalenol (3-Ac-DON), 15-acetyl deoxynivalenol (15-Ac-DON) and 3,15-diacetyl-deoxynivalenol (3,15-Ac-DON). Both DON and its acetylated forms are produced by fungi such as F. graminearum and F. culmorum and are therefore regarded as free or unmodified mycotoxins. DON-3-glucoside, the main plant metabolite of DON, is considered to be a masked mycotoxin and has been detected in cereal grains and cereal-based products. DON-3-glucoside is an example of detoxification by glycosylation in the plant, whereby glycosylation converts DON into a glucoside which is regarded as non-toxic for plants.

EU Legislation

EU guidance documents

Increased Control Measures

 

For emergency measures and temporary increased controls that may apply please visit our section on import controls

National Legislation

Statutory Instrument No. 218 of 2010 as amended (please visit Irish Statute Book website for amendments)

Zearalenone

Zearalenone (ZEN) is a mycotoxin produced by several Fusarium species, particularly F. graminearum. It is commonly found in maize but can also be found in other crops such as wheat, barley, sorghum and rye. 

 

Generally, the Fusarium species grow and invade crops in cool, moist field conditions. Modified forms of ZEN exist which are metabolites formed in plants, fungi and animals by phase I (oxidation/reduction) and phase II (conjugation) metabolism. Modified forms may add from a few up to 100% relative to ZEN. The modified form, α-Zearalenol (α-ZEL), has been deemed to be more potent (~60 times) than ZEN.

EU Legislation

EU guidance documents

Increased Control Measures

 

For emergency measures and temporary increased controls that may apply please visit our section on import controls 

National Legislation

Statutory Instrument No. 218 of 2010 as amended (please visit Irish Statute Book website for amendments)

Fumonisins

Fumonisins are mycotoxins produced predominantly by Fusarium verticillioides and Fusarium proliferatum. The most relevant compounds are the B-type fumonisins FB1-FB4. Besides the B-type fumonisins, other fumonisins such as the A-, C- and P-type have been described. 

 

However, these compounds are produced in much lower levels and for this reason are not of significance. Modified forms of fumonisins, such as phase I and phase II metabolites formed in fungi, infested plants or farm animals, also exist. Modified forms of fumonisins have a similar toxicological profile but are less potent than FB1. 

The occurrence of fumonisins is well documented in maize and maize products.

EU Legislation

EU guidance documents

Increased Control Measures

For emergency measures and temporary increased controls that may apply please visit our section on import controls

National Legislation

Statutory Instrument No. 218 of 2010 as amended (please see Irish Statute Book website for amendments)

T-2 and HT-2 toxin

T-2 and HT-2 are members of the type A group trichothecenes, which are produced by many Fusarium species infesting crop plants. Fusarium fungi are commonly found on cereals grown in temperate regions, such as Europe, and may produce these toxins under moist and cool conditions. HT-2 is a metabolite of T-2. 

The toxins are mostly attached to the outer hull of the grain, and therefore occur at much higher concentrations in bran and germ fractions.

Modified forms of mycotoxins comprise all biologically, chemically and physically modified derivatives of the parent molecule, which are formed in the fungus, infested plant and mammalian organism. 

Highest concentrations of T-2 and HT-2 toxins can be found in grains and grain milling products, notably in oats and oat products.

EU Legislation

EU guidance documents

Increased Control Measures

 

For emergency measures and temporary increased controls that may apply please visit our section on import controls

National Legislation

Statutory Instrument No. 218 of 2010 as amended (please see Irish Statute Book website for amendments)

Citrinin

Citrinin is a mycotoxin produced by several species of the genera Aspergillus, Penicillium and Monascus. 

 

It is generally formed after harvest under storage conditions and it occurs mainly in grains but can also occur in other products of plant origin e.g. beans, fruits, fruit and vegetable juices, herbs and spices and also in spoiled dairy products. 

Citrinin is known to occur also as an undesirable contaminant in Monascus fermentation products (generally described as red yeast rice), which have been used in Asia for centuries for meat preservation and food colouring. Co-occurrence of citrinin with other mycotoxins has been observed in food, especially with ochratoxin A in grains and grain-based products, and with patulin in fruits and fruit and vegetable juices.

 

EU Legislation

EU guidance documents

Guidance document on Identification of Mycotoxins in Food and Feed (supplements the "Specific requirements for confirmatory methods" from Annex II of Commission Regulation (EC) No 401/2006)

Increased Control Measures

For emergency measures and temporary increased controls that may apply please visit our section on import controls

 

National Legislation

Statutory Instrument No. 218 of 2010 as amended (please visit Irish Statute Book website for amendments)

Ergot sclerotia and ergot alkaloids

Ergot alkaloids (EAs; mycotoxins) and Ergot sclerotia (visible, dark infestation of cereal tip) are produced by fungal species such as Claviceps purpurea, which can infest grains like rye, barley, spelt, oat and wheat. In Europe, Claviceps purpurea is the most widespread and has been traditionally associated with rye. 

The presence of ergot sclerotia is considered a good indicator for the presence of EAs in grain samples, however, the absence of sclerotia does not exclude the presence of EAs. The current focus is on the following EAs: ergometrine, ergosine, ergocornine, ergotamine, ergocristine, ergocryptine (α- and β-form) and their corresponding -inine forms.

 

EU Legislation

EU guidance documents

Guidance document on Identification of Mycotoxins in Food and Feed (supplements the "Specific requirements for confirmatory methods" from Annex II of Commission Regulation (EC) No 401/2006)

Increased Control Measures

 

For emergency measures and temporary increased controls that may apply please visit our section on import controls

National Legislation

Statutory Instrument No. 218 of 2010 as amended (please visit Irish Statute Book website for amendments)

 

Last reviewed: 13/1/2021

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