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Food Safety Focus (90th Issue, January 2014) – Food Incident Highlight

Nuts and Aflatoxins

Last month, the Centre for Food Safety (CFS) released the Total Diet Study (TDS) results which revealed that dietary exposures of the Hong Kong adult population to five types of mycotoxins were low and unlikely to pose significant health concern.

Aflatoxins, one of the five types of mycotoxins studied, are more likely found in peanuts, tree nuts, corn, dried figs, cereals and their products. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) of the World Health Organization has classified naturally occurring aflatoxins as carcinogenic to humans. Based on the TDS findings and the prevalence of hepatitis B carriers in Hong Kong, the CFS estimated that aflatoxins contribute approximately eight cases of liver cancer in Hong Kong each year which amount to less than 1% of liver cancer annually. While there is no cause for alarm, exposure to aflatoxins should be reduced to as low as reasonably possible.

The trade should observe good agricultural and manufacturing practices, source food and ingredients from reliable suppliers and store food properly to minimise mycotoxin contamination. The public is advised to avoid consuming food that looks mouldy or damaged. As nuts contain many nutrients, such as unsaturated fatty acids, high-quality protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals, the public may include unsalted nuts in a well-balanced diet and consume them in moderation.