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To Conduct an Investigation into the Variety, Availability and Consumption of Ethnic Foods on the UK Market Liable to Mycotoxin Contamination


Mycotoxins are compounds produced by certain fungi. They can occur in a diverse range of foodstuffs including cereals, nuts, spices, dried fruits, milk, apple juice and offal. Some mycotoxins are known to cause cancer in humans as well as a range of health effects in humans and animals (liver and kidney failure, retarded growth, etc)


Human exposure arises either from direct consumption of such foods, or indirectly via animals that have ingested mycotoxin – contaminated feed. Known mycotoxins of concern include the aflatoxins (B1, B2, G1, G2 & M1), ochratoxin A, patulin and the toxins produced by Fusarium species i.e. fumonisins, trichothecens and zearalenone.


In recent years, an increasing range of imported foods have become available in the UK market, many of which have been highlighted by the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) as susceptible to mycotoxin contamination. However, there is a gap in the knowledge of foods available to the UK consumers that could be traditionally consumed in significant quantities by small groups of the population such as ethnic minorities.


It was the aim of this project to investigate the variety, availability and consumption of ethnic foods, liable to mycotoxin contamination, on the UK market.


In order to meet the scope of this project, data was gathered by face-to-face or telephone interviews, on the variety, consumption and availability of non-main stream foods, such as foods consumed by ethnic minorities in the UK. The interviewees included 50 participants from 15 countries, representing five different ethnic communities: Asian, African, Caribbean, Chinese and Eastern European. Additionally, a literature research focused on products of non-animal origin was conducted using online databases and internal sources, with the aim to assess the liability of such foods to mycotoxin contamination. The literature research guided the interview process to gather information on the foods more prone to mycotoxin contamination. Subsequently, the findings of both the literature review and interview process were used to construct a model to predict the risk of adverse health effects due to significant consumption of mycotoxin contaminated foods/ingredients used in food by ethnic communities in the UK.


The findings of the first two parts of the project were combined to identify a total of 227 commodities that are likely to be at risk of mycotoxin contamination. Staples such as rice, black eyed beans, nuts, maize, lentils, dried fruits and spices, cereals and products of these commodities featured in the diets of most of the groups studied. However, the presence of mycotoxins in these commodities is well documented and in many cases covered by statute so did not merit further study. The commodities of interest were foods eaten less commonly than the staples but were considered capable of enhancing the development of mycotoxins. These included aprapasa (palm soup), lotus seeds, palm oil, zahtar (a mixture of spices), curry leaves, mango powder, etc (55 in total).


The model aimed to examine and categorise the risk of adverse health effects due to consumption of mycotoxin contaminated foods. Three main factors were considered to play a key role in determining the risk of mycotoxin related illness through food consumption: food type (likelihood of contamination), mycotoxin type (toxicity) and consumption level (quantity of product/toxin consumed).

The model that was developed suggests that the score allocated to each of the above factors should be added up in order to give an overall score that will identify whether each food commodity belongs to a low (1 – 20), medium (20 – 40) or high (40 -60) risk category.


It is recommended that this model be applied to a wide range of foodstuffs to further validate its applicability as a working tool for interested parties in industry, academia and government.

More information

Find more about this project and other FSA food safety-related projects at the <a href="; target="_blank">Food

Standards Agency Research webpage</a>.

Berryman, Paul
Leatherhead Food International
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