The EU's food safety agency has set a weekly intake limit for ochratoxin A, calling on processors to make further efforts to reduce the fungal toxin in foods.
The setting of a limit by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) could mean further measures will have to be taken by processors to minimise the levels of the toxin in their food products. The main sources of human ingestion of Ochratoxin A (OTA) are cereals and cereal products, pulses, coffee, beer, grape juice, dry vine fruits and wine, cacao products, nuts and spices.
Ochratoxin A (OTA) is a mycotoxin naturally produced by certain fungi such as the Penicillium and Aspergillus species. Mycotoxins such as OTA are formed as crops grow or more commonly develop later during storage and have been reported as contaminants in food commodities. Human exposure to OTA has been confirmed through the detection of the mycotoxin in the blood, urine and milk samples of healthy subjects.
OTA is also found in animal feed from across the world but OTA in meat, milk and eggs was considered to be a negligible source for human exposure, an EFSA scientific panel stated in its evaluation of the mycotoxin. However, higher concentrations of OTA may occur in certain local specialties such as blood puddings and sausages prepared with pig blood serum, the report stated.
The EFSA scientific panel concluded that, when consumed, OTA accumulates in the kidney and is particularly toxic the organ. Taking into account all data currently available the panel derived a Tolerable Weekly Intake (TWI) of 120 ng per kg body weight for OTA. Currently, the weekly exposure of the general population to OTA varies between 15 and 60 ng per kg bodyweight and is therefore well below this value.
"The experts recommended that all efforts be made to continue to reduce OTA levels in food and that a monitoring programme be established to gather more specific exposure data for certain vulnerable groups," the report concluded.