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Aflatoxin

Definition

Aflatoxins are toxins produced by a mold that grows in nuts, seeds, and legumes.

Function

Although aflatoxins are known to cause cancer in animals, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows them at low levels in nuts, seeds, and legumes because they are considered "unavoidable contaminants."

The FDA believes occasionally eating small amounts of aflatoxin poses little risk over a lifetime. It is not practical to attempt to remove aflatoxin from food products in order to make them safer.

Food Sources

The mold that produces aflatoxin may be found in the following foods:

  • Peanuts and peanut butter
  • Tree nuts such as pecans
  • Corn
  • Wheat
  • Oil seeds such as cottonseed

Recommendations

To help minimize risk, the FDA tests foods that may contain aflatoxin. Peanuts and peanut butter are some of the most rigorously tested products because they often contain aflatoxins and are widely eaten.

You can reduce aflatoxin intake by:

  • Buying only major brands of nuts and nut butters
  • Discarding any nuts that look moldy, discolored, or shriveled

References

Kulig K. General approach to the poisoned patient. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 147.

Review Date:1/13/2015
Reviewed By:Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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