An unregulated, potentially harmful mycotoxin was found in over 10% of cereal sampled during a Food Standards Agency (FSA) survey, a report has confirmed.
Ergot alkaloids were detected in 12 of the 100 samples taken during a study investigating the presence of mycotoxins in foods, with total concentrations ranging from 2 to 169μg/kg.
There are currently no European Union (EU) regulatory controls in relation to the toxin, which is formed by Claviceps species fungus, despite its potential to contaminate cereal-based food,
The European Commission (EC) made an official request to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) for an assessment of the risks to human and animal health related to the presence of ergot alkaloids in food – the deadline for which was recently extended by EFSA to May 2012.
“Although there are currently no maximum levels for ergot alkaloids in EU legislation, it has been demonstrated that they may exert various toxic effects in certain animals,” said the report, which has been passed on to EFSA.
A FSA spokesperson told FoodProductionDaily.com that once EFSA has reviewed the risks associated with ergot alkaloids, the agency will reassess its stance on the mycotoxin.
Develop appropriate controls
The FSA spokesperson said: "Based on current scientific knowledge, the FSA has not identified a specific safety concern related to the levels of ergot alkaloids found in the survey."
"The FSA will contribute to any discussions held at an EU level regarding the necessity and urgency of regulatory controls on ergot after the EFSA opinion is published."
"The FSA is in discussion with industry regarding the control of levels of mycotoxins in cereals and cereal products. If the EFSA opinion indicates that there is a need for regulatory control measures, the FSA will contribute to discussions in Europe to develop appropriate controls for UK consumers," added the spokesperson.
The sampling of ergot alkaloids made up one-third of a FSA Food Survey Information Sheet (FSIS), study, which investigated the presence of mycotoxins in a range of UK foodstuffs through the testing of 225 samples.
While the majority were found to be within the maximum levels set in EU mycotoxin legislation – a figure the FSA called “reassuring” – the agency admitted that the prospect of mycotoxin free food samples is unfeasible at present.
“With the current knowledge and agricultural practices the provision of mycotoxin free food samples is not possible,” said the report.
Mycotoxins, naturally occurring toxins produced by moulds, are found in a wide range of foods including cereal and nuts.
They can be found growing on crops, during the production process and also while in storage.
There are concerns that consuming high-levels of mycotoxins over long periods of time may affect humans – potentially damaging DNA (genotoxic) and causing cancer.
Aim to ensure no risk
The first survey of the three investigated the presence of mycotoxins in food products for infants and young children.
Researchers collected and analysed 100 samples for a total of 20 mycotoxins, but found the majority of samples contained no detectable levels of mycotoxins.
Those that were detectable did not exceed the maximum permitted levels allowed by EU legislation, said the report.
Elsewhere in the report, another survey investigating the presence of patulin in apple juice and apple juice-based products found nothing in 23 out of the 25 items sampled.
However, one was found to exceed the maximum level allowed by EU legislation of 50μg/kg.
The contaminated batch was immediately removed from sale.
The report concluded: “The Agency aims to ensure that levels of contaminants and natural toxins such as mycotoxins do not pose an unacceptable risk to human health and to ensure that they are maximum levels where set.”