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Aflatoxin

Definition

Aflatoxins are toxins produced by a mold that grows in nuts, seeds, and legumes.

Function

Although aflatoxins are known to cause cancer in animals, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows them at low levels in nuts, seeds, and legumes because they are considered "unavoidable contaminants."

The FDA believes occasionally eating small amounts of aflatoxin poses little risk over a lifetime. It is not practical to attempt to remove aflatoxin from food products in order to make them safer.

Food Sources

The mold that produces aflatoxin may be found in the following foods:

  • Peanuts and peanut butter
  • Tree nuts such as pecans
  • Corn
  • Wheat
  • Oil seeds such as cottonseed

Recommendations

To help minimize risk, the FDA tests foods that may contain aflatoxin. Peanuts and peanut butter are some of the most rigorously tested products by FDA because they frequently contain aflatoxins and are widely consumed.

You can reduce aflatoxin intake by:

  • Buying only major brands of nuts and nut butters
  • Discarding any nuts that look moldy, discolored or shriveled

Review Date: 2/2/2011
Reviewed By: Eric Perez, MD, Department of Emergency Medicine, St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center, New York, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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