As humanity grows on daily basis, there is another group of small creatures called fungi, which are ubiquitous and most of which cannot be seen with unaided eyes. The Nigerian climate support the growth of this group and the subsequent production of chemicals on food items in farm, transit and store. These chemicals are toxic and are referred to as fungal toxins or mycotoxins. These toxic chemical s are found as contaminants of many items including maize, wheat, beans, groundnut, milk and milk products, yam, cassava. It is instructive that toxin production is predicated on mould growth. Nearly a quarter of the global crops are affected by them and their consumption as dietary chemicals by man and livestock incites a range of morbidities and on few occasions, mortality. Four divisions are very important because of their potency and increased research attention and, therefore health and international trade impacts. These are aflatoxins, ochratoxins, patulin and trichothecenes . Let’s start with the first one aflatoxins. This is a group that harbours the only known toxin of biological origin that has been so recognized by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, IARC. In the late 80s the Agency that serves as a technical arm of the WHO, officially placed aflatoxin B1 on the list of Type A carcinogen. The interpretation of this classification is that aflatoxin can incite cancer in human. Indeed cases of aflatoxin-induced liver cancer and immune suppression have been reported in livestock and man. High temperature, humidity and economic challenge all combine to present a formidable predisposing package. The producing fungus, Aspergillus flavus , is very common in Nigerian soil. On stale food items, it occurs as green coating , with the toxin representing a product of its secondary metabolism. This metabolite, which is colourless , odourless and tasteless, comes as B and G both representing the dietary forms and M being the one found in milk. Washing of the mouldy crop food will not remove the already secreted contaminating poison. It is heat stable so all forms of boiling may not provide any intervention. The temperature adequate to destroy it is equally sufficient the food item, so there will not be any net gain using heat to treat aflatoxin-contaminated food item. National , Continental and global bodies have been formed to address arising alimentary and export concerns.
The Mycotoxicology Society of Nigeria , Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa , PACA and the International Society for Mycotoxicology are various initiatives put in place to recommend and possibly implement interventions. At present, The MSN has its secretariat at NAFDAC, Lagos where it attends to public enquiries from the food and livestock industries.
As you read this know that you have a role to play in achieving health through wholesome ‘mealing’ Please tell your neighbour……. and even your enemy !!!!!