Trending – Aflatoxins
We periodically see pet food recalled for aflatoxin contamination. In this post, we look at aflatoxin contamination and put it into context.
Updated: June 3, 2022
What are aflatoxins?
Aflatoxins are a family of compounds naturally produced by certain fungi, most often mold from the Aspergillus Flavus species. Aflatoxins are poisonous and can be carcinogenic (meaning it has the potential to cause cancer) and mutagenic (meaning it has the potential to mutate a host’s DNA) produced by certain fungi, most often mold from the Aspergillus Flavus species (1,2).
Like many fungi, aflatoxin-producing molds thrive in warm, humid environments. The fungi that produce flatoxins grow well on common crops used as pet food ingredients such as corn, peanuts, wheat, and other grains. Molds that produce aflatoxins can grow on plants in the field prior to harvest or after harvest if not stored properly (1,2).
It’s important to note that the presence of Aspergillus Flavus on a crop does not automatically mean that the crop’s contaminated with aflatoxins. The presence of mold does not mean the mold is producing aflatoxin. Likewise, because corn, peanuts, wheat, and grains are often processed prior to use as ingredients in food, the presence of mold may not be visible, hence making aflatoxin more challenging to detect.
Are regulations in place to prevent harm from aflatoxin contamination?
Yes, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires food for domestic animals (e.g., dogs, cats, etc.) to contain no more than 20 parts per billion (ppb) of aflatoxin, which represents a very low acceptable limit (1,2).
Additionally, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) regulates the allowable limits of aflatoxins.
Why is aflatoxin found in pet foods?
The common ingredients used to make pet foods are more likely to be contaminated with aflatoxins.
All pet food manufacturers should follow Current Good Manufacturing Practices, including recommendations for testing procedures to ensure the equipment, ingredients, processes, and final product meet sanitation and safety requirements (1,2).
Occasionally, contamination still occurs, and aflatoxin is found in pet foods at levels higher than FDA’s 20 ppb allowable limit.
Why is aflatoxin dangerous when found in pet foods?
If the pet food is contaminated with aflatoxin, the toxin may accumulate in the animal’s body, typically in the liver where it is metabolized. Dogs are an especially sensitive species to the toxic effects of aflatoxin. In some cases, aflatoxins can cause death in pets (1).
Can humans be impacted by aflatoxin contamination?
Yes, human health, especially children’s health, can be adversely impacted by aflatoxin contamination. However, it’s uncommon for people to die from aflatoxin contamination due to our varied diets (1).
While food intended for human consumption rarely makes it to the marketplace contaminated with aflatoxin, it has recently occurred in some Eastern European countries and parts of the developing world (1).
What happens if pet food contains aflatoxin?
If a company discovers their pet food is contaminated with aflatoxin, the company can and usually does issue a recall and informs the U.S. FDA and other relevant agricultural agencies.
Companies will often work with the U.S. FDA in cooperation with other state agricultural departments to investigate and ensure the contaminated foods are removed from the market and consumers are aware of the recall (1,2).
Sometimes, an inspection will lead to the U.S. FDA discovering the aflatoxin contamination. In that situation, the U.S. FDA can issue a recall (1).
What can I do to protect my pet?
Make sure you’re not using recalled pet food to feed your pet. You can view the currently recalled pet food list on the FDA’s website.
If you and your veterinarian suspect your pet may be ill due to food contamination, you can fill out a report to file a complaint on the U.S. FDA's website.
Remember, many things can cause your pet to have a health concern, not necessarily pet food. So, it’s best to talk with your veterinarian about all possibilities to ensure your pet’s health is put first.
The good news.
Our regulatory agencies can and do help protect our pets when harmful contamination occurs. By paying attention to recalls, we can make sure our pets remain healthy.