Testing for food toxin in U.S. grocery store items

Michigan State University researcher Felicia Wu has worked on investigating a food toxin known as aflatoxin.

October 1, 2017 - Author: ANR Communications and Marketing

A row of self-serve grains that could contain aflatoxin.

In hot, humid regions of the world, a food toxin known as aflatoxin is produced by molds that contaminate crops. Aflatoxin can cause liver cancer, child stunting and immune system dysfunction.

MSU scientist Felicia Wu has devoted much of her career to investigating aflatoxin, which occurs most often in corn, peanuts and tree nuts.

The bulk of her work takes place in Africa, but Wu is also interested in digging into food safety closer to home.

From 2012 to 2014, Wu and a research team performed a risk assessment by testing for the presence of another fungal toxin, ochratoxin A (OTA), in items plucked directly off of U.S. grocery store shelves — the first study of its kind in the country. Like aflatoxin, OTA has been associated with health risks. In a variety of animal species, kidney diseases and renal cancer have been linked to the toxin.

  • Nearly 2,300 samples were selected from nine locations spanning the continental U.S. Foods included in the study – dried fruits, nuts, cereals, infant formula, wine, milk, coffee, cocoa and pork –were those likely to have detectable OTA. Organic, nonorganic and imported foods were represented.
  • Results showed there is a negligible risk to Americans from OTA exposure.
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