Zearalenone is produced mainly by F. graminearum and F. culmorum and may occur in most cereals, including maize, wheat, barley, oats and rye. Zearalenone has estrogenic properties in various animal species that include infertility, vulval edema, and mammary hypertrophy in females (Peraica et al., 1999). Little information is available regarding the effects of zearalenone in humans, although in Puerto Rico, precocious sexual development in young children was attributed to food contaminated with zearalenone (Saenz de Rodriguez et al., 1985).

Zearalenone has been reported in maize and maize products from several African countries including Botswana, Egypt, Lesotho, Swaziland, South Africa and Zambia. However from the West and Central African sub-regions, the only reports available are from Nigeria and Cameroon. In Nigeria, the toxin was detected in moldy maize samples at levels of 960 ng/g (Gbodi et al., 1986). In a study of maize beer in Nigeria, 28/46 samples were contaminated with zearalenone at levels ranging from 13-200 ng/g with a mean of the positive samples being 82 ng/g (Okoye, 1986). In Cameroon, 12/15 maize samples contained zearalenone at levels up to 1,100 ng/g (Ngoko et al., 2001).

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