The European Commission legislation and Codex Alimentarius currently are evaluating ochratoxin A contamination of food commodities and raw material. Ochratoxin A can be found in cereals, wine, grape juice, dried vine fruits, coffee, spices, cocoa, and animal derived products, e.g., pork. The current European Commission legislation includes unprocessed cereals and cereal products, including baby food. JECFA (the Joint FAO/WHO expert committee on Food Additives) evaluated ochratoxin A at its 56th meeting in 2001 (FAO/WHO, 2001). They determined that ochratoxin A is nephrotoxic and causes renal cancer, but that the mechanism of action is not yet clear as both genotoxic and non-genotoxic mechanisms have been proposed.
JECFA retained the previously established provisional tolerable weekly intake (PTWI) of 100 ng/kg body weight (bw), corresponding to approximately 14 ng/kg bw/day. Estimates of tolerable daily intake for ochratoxin A, based on non-threshold mathematical modeling approaches or a safety factor/threshold approach, have ranged from 1.2 to 14 ng/kg bw/day. The Scientific Committee for Food of the European Commission (SCF, 1998) considered that, "It would be prudent to reduce exposure to ochratoxin A as much as possible, ensuring that exposures are towards the lower end of the range of tolerable daily intakes of 1.2-14 ng/kg bw/day that have been estimated by other bodies, i.e., below 5 ng/kg bw/day". In the most recent assessment of ochratoxin A amongst European consumers (SCOOP, 2002), and in earlier investigations, cereals were the most important dietary source of ochratoxin A, contributing from 50 to 80% of the toxin intake. Thus, prevention of ochratoxin A formation by specific molds in cereals would have a significant impact on the consumer intake of ochratoxin A in Europe.
The food and brewing industries are increasingly demanding high quality cereals for food and drink products and require grain at least conforming to the statutory limits set for ochratoxin A. Thus, there is a major incentive for the European cereal industry to minimize ochratoxin A, and other mycotoxins, in grain to remain competitive worldwide and to reduce consumer risk as much as possible. There is an urgent need to understand the factors that enable or promote mycotoxin formation both pre- and postharvest stages so that strategies can be developed to minimize mycotoxin formation.
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