Aflatoxin in peanut butter
Have you heard about recent concerns of the safety of peanut butter due to aflatoxin? Though the issue has recently gotten more media attention, aflatoxins are not new. They are naturally occurring byproducts of many species of the fungus Aspergillus. The aflatoxins resulting from these fungi are considered carcinogens which can affect the liver and other bodily organs. Species of Aspergillus that produce aflatoxin are common in wheat, rice, soybean, sunflower, ginger, tree nuts, peanuts, and many other foods. The fungus lives in soil, hay, and decaying vegetation.
Aflatoxins in peanut butter most often result from fungi growth on peanuts stored in warm, humid silos. The amount of aflatoxin present in peanut butter varies from brand to brand and batch to batch. Although nearly all peanut butter sold in the United States contains trace amounts of aflatoxin, these levels are far below the FDA's recommended safe level of 20 parts per billion. According to one study by Consumer Reports, the average level of aflatoxin in peanut butter is less than one ppb. While aflatoxins are considered toxic, humans have an extraordinarily high tolerance for exposure.
It is believed that there is little danger from long-term exposure to low levels of aflatoxin; symptoms are more common in those who have been exposed to levels of aflatoxins much higher than those allowed by the FDA. As a precautionary measure, the FDA routinely tests foods that have the potential for aflatoxins. According to the USDA, there have been no cases of aflatoxicosis reported in the United States.
While many anxious parents are concerned about the possibility of carcinogens in peanut butter, this is not considered a major public health issue. Low levels of aflatoxins are unavoidable, and there are precautionary measures in place to ensure that the peanut butter sold in the U.S. is safe.