2011-2012 Fumonisins in Corn-based and Soy-based 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. As part of the FSAP enhanced surveillance initiative, targeted surveys are used to provide data in order to evaluate various foods for specific hazards.

The main objectives of the fumonisins survey were to provide baseline surveillance data regarding fumonisin levels in corn-based and soy-based products available on the Canadian retail market, and to compare these levels to the fumonisin levels observed in the previous FSAP survey, where feasible.

Fumonisins are a family of naturally-occurring toxins released by Fusarium moulds. These moulds proliferate and release fumonisins on crops growing in the field (pre-harvest) and on crops in storage (post-harvest). The growth of these moulds is favoured by hot, dry conditions followed by very humid conditions, and subsequent storage under wet conditions.

Although 15 different fumonisins have been identified, fumonisin B1 is the most abundant and most commonly detected. Frequently, lesser amounts of fumonisin B2 and fumonisin B3 are also detected. Fumonisin B1 has been shown to be toxic to the liver and kidney in animal studies and is classified as possibly carcinogenic to humans. Epidemiological studies have found an association between high dietary concentrations of fumonisin B1 and the incidence of oesophageal cancer (China, Iran, Africa) and neural tube defects (Central America and the southwestern US).

A total of 454 samples (274 corn-based and 180 soy-based) were collected and analysed in this targeted survey. All samples were analysed for fumonisins forms B1 and B2. Thirty-six percent of samples tested (162/454) had detectable levels of fumonisins.

Of the 274 corn-based samples tested (e.g. corn flour, corn tacos, corn/tortilla chips), one hundred sixty-one (59%) had detectable levels of fumonisins, ranging from 20.8 parts per billion (ppb) to 4442.5 ppb. Of the 180 soy-based samples (e.g. soybeans, soy beverages, soy flour), one sample (soy flour; 22.4 ppb) had a detectable level of fumonisins. The positive rates and the fumonisin levels were comparable between the two survey years for corn-based products (soy-based products were not analysed in the previous FSAP survey).

There are no Canadian maximum levels, tolerances, or standards for fumonisins in corn-based or soy-based products so compliance to a numerical standard could not be assessed. One cornmeal result (4442.5 ppb) had an elevated level of fumonisins relative to other corn-based products. Health Canada's Bureau of Chemical Safety evaluated all fumonisin results, including the elevated result for cornmeal, and determined that they did not pose a concern to human health. Due to the lack of a human health concern, no product recalls were required.

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