Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Hope for reducing aflatoxins in African peanuts and maize

When asked about taking groups to West Africa on culinary tours,  I have been hesitant to undertake such a project due to issues of food safety and quality control. A serious problem surrounding peanut and maize production in Africa, for example, is the prevalence of mycotoxins, types of fungi that can contaminate food before, during or after it is harvested/processed. Since the 1960s there has been a new recognition of the health and other impacts of  one group of mycotoxins known as aflatoxins (in particular, Aspergillus flavus and A. parasiticus) in Africa. According to the most recent quarterly newsletter of the  African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) (04, Oct. 2009-Jan 2010) "These toxins are potent causes of cancer and suppress the immune system causing greater susceptibility of humans and animals to diseases. . . High levels of aflatoxin contamination in agricultural products also affect international trade since agricultural products that have more than permissible levels of contamination are rejected in the global market." The fungi thrive in environments of moisture and insect damage. It is therefore imperative to know how the maize in the ball of kenkey or corn dough was stored, how the peanuts in the tankora powder were processed, etc., in order to be confident that they are fungus-free. One cannot tell by looking or tasting.

New biocontrol products are now being developed to help: AflaSafe for maize by the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and Afla-guard by the United States Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service (now licensed to a private company). This is good news for us all.

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