Aflatoxin? In my powdered peanut butter?!
March 30, 2013 6:36 PM   Subscribe

I use this product in my smoothies that I eat quite often. How concerned should I be about aflatoxin? I am hoping someone with a deeper knowledge of the issues concerning aflatoxin and food products can shed some light on this for me. Is it likely to contaminated or not? How can I find out? What can I do to protect myself from aflatoxin in this and other products?
posted by long haired child to Food & Drink (3 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
My father has always ranted about aflatoxin (as a chemistry trained biochemistry professor and research scientist). He worried that because LD50 (the dose at which 50% of the study sample dies) seems to be quite low (a low dosage seems to kill many different study species) and because it's hard to prevent from happening and was when he was looking at it hard to detect, that there was a high risk of aflatoxin poisoning to any individual or populace who might be exposed to it.

Looking around the Web, this article (http://www.icrisat.org/aflatoxin/health.asp) seems reasonably well articulated and researched, but I would recommend looking at the referenced sources.

Note that from this article, the wide range of LD50 doses is not indicative of reliable information about human toxicity. This means it would be hard to get a reasonable indication of human toxicity for humans without human subject data which is entirely unethical and not obtainable. So if you were skirting intentional toxicity you'd be playing an unknown game.

The other complication appears to be that one of the kinds of toxicity that aflatoxin has with humans is carcinogenic and it seems like it happens in very small doses.

Of additional interest in this article is that it seems like growing/storage conditions for peanuts sourced from Asia and India encourage the formation of aflatoxin, so if you can find out where your peanuts come from you can reduce risk of exposure. I'm going to assume from the product's listing in USD that you're from the US.

Despite a lot of deregulation I think the FDA is still conservative enough that US food products are often more safe than we fear. Not an ideal answer I know. This article (http://www.emagazine.com/daily-news/a-new-peanut-butter-scare - which has no references) claims that aflatoxin toxicity is a low risk in the US.
posted by kalessin at 7:34 PM on March 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


No cases of aflatoxin poisoning (aflatoxicosis) have been reported in the US, although there have been outbreaks in various other countries, including Kenya in 2004 (peanuts) and India in 1974 (maize). In both cases, the outbreaks were localized and several hundred people died.

In the US, aflatoxin concentration in food is rigorously tested and controlled. Crops that may have been affected by the fungus are destroyed, as a preventative measure.

Aflatoxicosis is just another very small risk factor of mass food production. Aflatoxin leads to localized outbreaks. It's not something that affects random individuals, and it's not something you have to watch out for personally, like mercury in tuna fish. There is no "chronic aflatoxicosis" that develops over time. The US is very good at keeping a safe food supply.

In short, you are far more likely to die as a consequence of some other kind of food poisoning, especially given that there are no cases of aflatoxicosis in the US.
posted by Nomyte at 8:31 PM on March 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Unless you live in a developing country, you're very unlikely to get acute aflatoxin poisoning. But chronic exposure to aflatoxin has all kinds of subtle but nasty effects, some of which are cumulative at any dose. You can't really avoid aflatoxin altogether (it occurs in tiny amounts in a whole range of foods, not just peanuts, although peanuts are the most common source), but most developed countries have testing regimes that should make sure there isn't much of it even in particularly susceptible foods.

Personally, I wouldn't make peanuts a major part of my diet, but I wouldn't avoid them religiously either.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 1:46 AM on March 31, 2013


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