Hazard in Food Production

The presence of mycotoxins in food can be of concern for consumers. Different species of Fungi can produce thousands of different mycotoxins as their secondary metabolites, but only a few are a significant challenge in food safety. The oldest identified effect of mycotoxins in humans, called a mycotoxicosis, is Ergotism caused by ergot alkaloids. Ergot alkaloids represent a group of alkaloids found in fungi growing in the heads of grasses, e.g. wheat and rye, which cause a medieval disease with burning sensations in victims' limbs called "St. Anthony's Fire". Nowadays, screening for ergot-infected grains is mainly done visually for the fungi, therefore, its significance for the food industry is of less importance.

In general, if elevated levels of mycotoxins are found in food, toxic, mutagenic and teratogenic effects can be found and symptoms such as skin irritation, immunosuppression, birth defects, neurotoxicity and death can be observed. Depending on concentration, effects can be chronic or acute.

Mycotoxins are typically highly resistant to temperature and processing, so destruction during conventional food production does not occur. Consequently, regulations for mycotoxins in food are necessary and products which do not meet these criteria are removed from the market. To control mycotoxin contamination in food, controlling parameters like water activity, pH need to be controlled as well as quality control of the incoming ingredients is of high importance. Novel control strategies, like the use of genetically modified grains with increased insect resistance and thus lowered rates of fungal infection, are being applied in food production processes. The inclusion of mycotoxin control in food manufacturing Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) plans is widely used as prevention for mycotoxin occurrence in food.

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