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Fungi in Food from Food Choices
Fungal contamination of food may be one of the more pervasive and serious causes of endemic disease. Fungi produce mycotoxins that are versatile and potent causes of disease. Mycotoxins can cause acute and chronic illnesses, induce cancer, and damage vital organs such as the liver kidney and brain. A variety of fungi (Fusaria, Trichothecium, Cephalosporium, etc.) may contaminate grains, in particular, and produce illness with symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, chills, dizziness, and blurred vision.
Aflatoxins are produced by molds which favor nuts, corn, millet, and figs. The Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 25% of the world’s food crops contain aflatoxins. These toxins may produce symptoms like loss of appetite and jaundice (hepatitis) immediately and with repeated exposure, they are also carcinogenic. Some of these fungal metabolites are also neurotoxins that produce tremors as a conspicuous symptom. The same fungi, which produce aflatoxin, produce a tremorgen, known to cause "staggers" in sheep and cattle. The common fungi, which grow on food, even in the refrigerator, are Penicillium, Aspergillus, and Claviceps. Over 15 tremorgenic mycotoxins have been isolated from these fungi.
Sweet potato supports a fungal growth (Fusarium solani), especially when the tuber's surface is damaged. The fungus alters the potatoes' metabolism, and toxic stressors are produced. Ipomeanol is one such chemical that is liver and lung toxic. Lung disease in cattle is caused by fungal-infected sweet potatoes. The mycotoxin ochratoxin A is a common contaminant of foods and beverages such as beer, coffee and wine. It is produced as a secondary metabolite of moulds from Aspergillus and Penicillium genera. Ochratoxin A inhibits protein synthesis by competition with phenylalanine its structural analogue and also enhances the production of oxygen free-radicals. Its multiple toxic effects include cytotoxicity, teratogenicity, genotoxicity, mutagenicity and carcinogenicity. OTA exposure was linked to “Balkan Endemic Nephropathy” with a high incidence of urinary tract tumors. (See abstract.)
In Canada 363 samples of cereal-based infant foods were collected from the retail stores over 3 years and tested for mycotoxins. The samples included oat-, barley-, soy-, and rice-based infant cereals, mixed-grain infant cereals, teething biscuits, creamed corn, and soy-based formulas. Samples were analysed for targeted mycotoxins (deoxynivalenol, nivalenol, HT-2 toxin, zearalenone, ochratoxin A, fumonisins B(1) and B(2), and five ergot alkaloids). Soy-based cereals (which usually contain corn) exhibited the highest incidences of deoxynivalenol (100%), zearalenone (46%) and fumonisins (75%). Overall, deoxynivalenol was the most frequently detected mycotoxin--it was detected in 63% of samples analysed. Survey results demonstrated the regular occurrence of multiple mycotoxins in cereal-based infant foods
The US FDA manual on food mold and yeasts stated: “The large and diverse group of microscopic foodborne yeasts and molds (fungi) includes several hundred species. The ability of these organisms to attack many foods is due in large part to their relatively versatile environmental requirements. Although the majority of yeasts and molds are obligate aerobes (require free oxygen for growth), their acid/alkaline requirement for growth is quite broad, ranging from pH 2 to above pH 9. Their temperature range (10-35°C) is also broad, with a few species capable of growth below or above this range. Moisture requirements of foodborne molds are relatively low; most species can grow at a water activity (aw) of 0.85 or less, although yeasts generally require a higher water activity. Both yeasts and molds cause various degrees of deterioration and decomposition of foods. They can invade and grow on virtually any type of food at any time; they invade crops such as grains, nuts, beans, and fruits in fields before harvesting and during storage. They also grow on processed foods and food mixtures. Detectability in or on foods depends on food type, organisms involved, and degree of invasion; the contaminated food may be slightly blemished, severely blemished, or completely decomposed, with the actual growth manifested by rot spots of various sizes and colors, unsightly scabs, slime, white cottony mycelium, or highly colored sporulating mold. Abnormal flavors and odors may also be produced. Occasionally, a food appears mold-free but is found upon mycological examination to be contaminated. Contamination of foods by yeasts and molds can result in substantial economic losses to producer, processor, and consumer. Several foodborne molds, and possibly yeasts, may also be hazardous to human or animal health because of their ability to produce toxic metabolites known as mycotoxins. Most mycotoxins are stable compounds that are not destroyed during food processing or home cooking. Even though the generating organisms may not survive food preparation, the preformed toxin may still be present. Certain foodborne molds and yeasts may also elicit allergic reactions or may cause infections. Although most foodborne fungi are not infectious, some species can cause infection, especially in immunocompromised populations, such as the aged and debilitated, HIV-infected individuals, and persons receiving chemotherapy or antibiotic treatment. “
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