2010-2011 Aflatoxins in Dried Fruits, Nuts and Nut Products, and Corn Products

Executive Summary

The Food Safety Action Plan (FSAP) aims to modernize and enhance Canada's food safety system. As part of the FSAP enhanced surveillance initiative, targeted surveys are used to test various foods for specific hazards.

Aflatoxins (AF) comprise a family of natural toxins produced by Aspergillus moulds. Although at least 20 different forms of AF exist, AF forms B1, B2, G1 and G2 are the most prevalent and the most toxic forms occurring in plant-based foods. AF is a potent liver carcinogen. AF infests corn and corn products, nutmeats, dried fruits, grains and spices grown and/or stored under hot, humid conditions. Most human exposure to aflatoxins through the diet has been determined to come from the consumption of AF-contaminated nuts and corn. Health Canada has established a 15 ppb standard for AFs in nuts and nut products as per B.01.046(n) of the Food and Drug Regulations.

The main objectives of the aflatoxin survey were to:

  • provide baseline surveillance data regarding AF levels in dried figs, dried dates, corn products, and nut products (nutmeats and nut butters)
  • compare AF prevalence in dried figs and in dried dates in 2009-2010 and in 2010-2011

A total of 628 samples were collected and analysed in this targeted survey. Samples were analysed for residues using a multi-residue method that detects the AF forms B1, B2, G1 and G2. Both the levels of the individual forms and the total AF levels were reported. Most of the samples (584/628 or 93%) did not contain detectable levels of AF.

None of the 90 samples of dried dates and dried figs contained detectable levels of AF. These results are similar to those from the FSAP 2009-2010 AF targeted survey where 100% of the dried date samples and 92% of the dried fig samples did not contain detectable levels of AF.

Two hundred eighty-five corn products were analysed for AF; 262 (92%) of these did not contain detectable levels of AF. Cornbread mix, canned corn, corn flour, corn grits, corn meal, corn starch, and corn tortillas did not have detectable levels of AF. Corn tacos (12/23), tortilla/corn chips (5/51), corn cereals (5/57), and popcorn (1/29) had total AF levels ranging from 0.1 ppb to 1.7 ppb.

Two hundred fifty-three nut products were analysed for AF; 232 (92%) of these did not contain detectable levels of AF. Nine of the 21 positive samples were associated with nut butters. Cashews, macadamia, pecan and pistachio nut products did not have detectable levels of AF. Peanut (10/45), Brazil nut (2/13), hazelnut (2/23), almond (4/51), and walnut (3/48) products had AF levels ranging from 0.1 to 28.7 ppb. Two of the samples exceeded the Canadian maximum limit of 15 ppb AF in nuts. These two samples were referred to the designated CFIA program for appropriate follow-up actions. These actions may include notification of the producer or importer, follow-up inspections, additional directed sampling, and product recalls. No product recalls were associated with any of violative samples from this survey.

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