This article by Dr. Bárbara Ponzilacqua Silva has been published in The Open Food Science Journal, Volume 10, 2018
Aflatoxins are secondary metabolites produced by fungi of the genus Aspergillus, which occur naturally in cereals like corn, beans and rice. Aflatoxin B1 (AFB1) is the main aflatoxin produced by the fungi and has the highest toxicity, mainly targeting the liver, while also exhibits teratogenic, mutagenic and carcinogenic effects in humans and several animal models. Because the aflatoxins are heat-stable compounds, management to prevent food contamination is essential during the production, mainly in pre- and post-harvest steps. However, the development of new, reliable techniques to eliminate the aflatoxin from contaminated foodstuffs is a very important task for the food industry. In this context, considerable experimental research has indicated that essential oils and aqueous plant extracts inhibit the fungal development and/or the biosynthesis of aflatoxins, hence demonstrating a potential for their use in food products. This article summarizes the experimental studies conducted with essential oils and aqueous plant extracts. The authors discuss the prospects for using these compounds in food products to prevent Aspergillus growth or aflatoxin production, particularly in stored cereals and their manufactured products. The authors suggest that, as a first step, the procedures for preparation of plant extracts and/or essential oils need standardization. Additionally, further studies are necessary to identify the main active compounds of plant extracts and understand their mechanisms of action, as well to determine the safety levels for their use by the food industry. Some practical aspects of using essential oils and aqueous plant extracts in food products also need to be investigated, especially their potential effects on sensory characteristics of foods, and their shelf life for the maintenance of antifungal properties under different environmental conditions.
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