Mycotoxins in foodstuffs and animal feed

Mycotoxins are secondary metabolic products that are formed by mould fungi and can be poisonous to vertebrates, even in low amounts. They get into the food chain right at the growing stage of agricultural products in the field or if the foodstuffs and animal feeds are not stored, transported or processed in the right conditions.


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Aflatoxin B1, B2, G1, G2

Aflatoxins of the Aspergillus ssp. genus are amongst the most investigated mycotoxins. Toxicological studies have shown that the aflatoxin B1 compound is carcinogenic, even at very low concentrations. Aflatoxin B1 is converted to a highly reactive epoxy in the organism by certain enzymes from the metabolism of the foreign substance, the cytochrome P450-dependent monooxygenases. This epoxy binds to the DNA and can lead to the development of cancer as a result of the damage it causes to the cell cycle.

For optimal growth and optimal metabolic activity, most aflatoxin-forming mould fungi require temperatures of 25°C to 40°C and a damp climate. They therefore thrive in tropical and subtropical regions. For this reason it is primarily imported plant-based foodstuffs that contain aflatoxins. Edible nuts such as peanuts, Brazil nuts and pistachios have a high risk potential. Millet, wheat, spices, rice, soya beans, figs, almonds, hazelnuts and nutmegs are also frequently contaminated with aflatoxins.

Feeding animals with feed containing aflatoxins (especially cereals) means that the mycotoxins also end up in animal products (carry-over effect). As a result of the metabolism of farm animals, aflatoxin B1 is converted to aflatoxin M1 and can be found in milk and some milk products.

Fusarium toxins

Fusarium toxins deoxynivalenol, zearalenone and fumonisins are often found in cereals and corn. Fusarium toxins is found in particular in cereal, spices, coffee, cocoa, figs, hazelnuts, peanuts and foodstuffs made from these products.


Patulin is a secondary metabolic product from various mould fungi of the genera penicillium, aspergillus, byssochlamys and paecilomyces. It is mainly found in apple products and other pomaceous fruit products.

Legal regulations and maximum mycotoxin levels

To ensure greater consumer protection, European Ordinance (EC) no. 1881/2006 of 19 December 2006 stipulates legally binding maximum levels for aflatoxins (aflatoxin B1, aflatoxin M1, total of aflatoxins B1, B2, G1 and G2), ochratoxin A, patulin and fusarium toxins such as deoxynivalenol and zearalenone in different foodstuffs and food groups. For foodstuffs that do not fall within the scope of this ordinance, the National Contaminant Ordinance (KmV) stipulates supplementary maximum levels.

The tendency towards honeycombing, i.e. clusters of contamination from a mould infestation especially in large batches and lots, is particularly challenging for analytics and the legal evaluation of results. To ensure that the analytical results of individual lab samples are also representative of larger batches, Ordinance (EC) no. 401/2006 (mycotoxin control ordinance) stipulates special sampling methods for the official control of mycotoxin levels in foodstuffs.

Analysis of mycotoxins at ifp

The ifp Institute for Product Quality offers comprehensive analysis of mycotoxins in foodstuffs. The sample is ground, extracted and then purified using immunoaffinity columns (IAC) depending on the analytes. Specific monoclonal antibodies are coupled to the gel of the immunoaffinity columns, and these specifically bind the mycotoxins. Following various cleaning processes, the mycotoxins are eluted with a solvent and coupled with a fluorescence detector by way of high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) or
determined by LC-MS/MS.

The services offered by the ifp include analysis of the following mycotoxins:

  • Aflatoxin B1, B2, G1, G2 (AFB)*
  • Aflatoxin M1 (AFM)*
  • Ochratoxin A (OTA)*
  • 15-acetyl deoxynivalenol (15 Ac-DON)**
  • 3-acetyl deoxynivalenol (3 Ac-DON)**
  • Deoxynivalenol (DON)**
  • Diacetoxyscirpenol (DAS)**
  • Fusarenone X**
  • Zearalenone (ZEA)**
  • Fumonisin B1, B2**
    T2 and HT2 toxin**
  • Patulin**
  • Nivalenol (NIV)**

*HPLC = high performance liquid chromatography / FLD = fluorescence detection
**LC-MS/MS = liquid chromatography / tandem quadrupole

In addition we offer our customers:

  • Comprehensive advice on sampling and analysis
  • Legal evaluation of the analysis results in accordance with European and national law