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The information in the archive was published by MAFF, Department of Health and the Scottish Executive before April 1st 2000 when the Food Standards Agency was established.

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Food Surveillance Information Sheet

Number 61      May 1995


Index to MAFF UK Food Surveillance Information Sheets, 1995

See also:

86: MAFF, UK - Surveillance of Fumonisins in Foodstuffs (April 1996)
192: MAFF UK - Survey for Aflatoxins, Ochratoxin A, Fumonisins and Zearalenone in Raw Maize


Fumonisins are a group of naturally occurring toxins produced by certain Fusarium mould species which are usually associated with maize (corn). Fumonisins in animal feeds have been linked with certain animal diseases, including leukoencephalomalacia which affects the central nervous system of horses. Concern has also been raised in a number of countries about the presence of fumonisins in human food.

The potential toxic and carcinogenic effects of fumonisins were discussed by the Committee on Carcinogenicity (COC) in July 1993 but it was unable to reach any firm conclusions on the available evidence at that time. However it will review fumonisins again when the results of current toxicity studies become available.

MAFF has previously carried out surveillance for fumonisins in traditional Chinese and Indian foods (Bulletin No. 53, September 1994). A survey has now been carried out to determine the levels of three major fumonisins, FB1, FB2 and FB3, in a variety of maize-based foods and cereals so that an assessment can be made of the UK dietary exposure to fumonisins from these sources.


Retail samples of wheat, barley, oats, rice, soya, polenta, breakfast cereals, pop corn, corn-based crisps and snacks, tortilla, taco, enchilada, corn syrups, corn oils, corn-based thickeners, corn on the cob, sweet corn and corn-fed chicken were analysed. In addition, the fate of fumonisins during commercial maize processing was assessed by determining levels of fumonisins in each processing fraction (maize, pellets, gluten, oil, germ, steep liquor, glucose syrup, trade effluent, starch, screenings and spraysweet [spray-dried glucose powder]).

All analyses were carried out at RHM Technology Ltd, High Wycombe, using an HPLC method with fluorescence detection. The methods used in this surveillance have been validated, i.e. evidence has been, and continues to be, generated to demonstrate that the methods perform as intended and claimed reliable and reproducible. All analyses were conducted with spike samples, these samples were used to assess recoveries and recoveries > 70 per cent were classed as valid. The limit of determination (LOD) of the method was 10 µg/kg.

Fumonisins were detected in 26 per cent (76/291) of all samples at total concentrations ranging from 10-2124 micrograms per kilogram (µg/kg). The results of the survey of retail foods are given in Table 1.

About 78 per cent of crisp and snack samples contained fumonisins at total levels between 11-220 µg/kg while 24 per cent of breakfast cereals contained total fumonisins at between 11-194 µg/kg. No samples of ready-made popcorn contained detectable levels of fumonisins but 46 per cent of popping corn and microwaveable popcorn contained total fumonisins at 14-784 µg/kg. Low levels of fumonisin B1 only were detected in samples of tacos and in some foods containing corn based thickeners, such as instant semolina pudding and instant custard powder.

The lower and upper means are shown in Table 1. The lower mean values were calculated by assuming that samples below the LOD contained fumonisins at 0 µg/kg. The upper mean values were calculated by assuming that samples below the LOD contained fumonisins at the LOD level of 10 mg/kg. The true average will lie between the upper and lower values.

Fumonisins were not detected in samples of barley, wheat, soya, oats, rice, corn syrup, corn on the cob, corn oil, corn-fed chicken or wheat flour tortilla. Fumonisins were also not detected in samples of spraysweet, glucose or starch milling fractions, the most important food products, despite detectable fumonisins contamination in the samples of original maize.


The potential toxic and carcinogenic effects of fumonisins have been discussed by the COC but no firm conclusions have been reached about the effects on humans of dietary exposure to fumonisins. This area and the present surveillance data will be reviewed again by the Committee when results of current carcinogenicity studies are available. In the meantime, while the presence of the fumonisin mycotoxins in food is undesirable, preliminary indications are that the results of this survey give no immediate cause for concern.

Contact Point

Further information can be obtained from:
Dr D Atkins/Dr J Norman
MAFF, Joint Food Safety and Standards Group
Food Contaminants Division
Room 208, Ergon House
c/o Nobel House
17 Smith Square
London SW1P 3JR

Tel: (+44) (0)20 7238 6198

Fax: (+44) (0)20 7238 5331

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These pages were last updated on 1 October 1996


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