2010-2011 Fumonisins in Corn Products

Executive Summary

The Food Safety Action Plan (FSAP) aims to modernize and enhance Canada's food safety system. As part of the FSAP enhanced surveillance initiative, targeted surveys are used to test various foods for specific hazards.

The main objective of the fumonisin (FMN) survey was to provide baseline surveillance data regarding FMN levels in corn products available on the Canadian retail market.

Fumonisins (FMN) are a family of naturally-occurring toxins released by Fusarium moulds. These moulds proliferate and release FMN both on corn growing in the field (pre-harvest) and on raw corn/finished corn products in storage (post-harvest). The growth of the mould is favoured by hot, dry conditions followed by very humid conditions during growth, and subsequent storage under wet conditions.

Although different forms of FMN exist, FMN forms B1 and B2 are the most prevalent, the most toxic forms occurring in plant-based foods, and the most commonly analysed. Fumonisins interfere with human cell metabolism and are considered possible carcinogens. They have been associated with the incidence of oesophageal cancer and neural tube defects in particular geographical areas.

A total of 276 samples (corn-based breakfast cereals (56), corn/tortilla chips (45), cornmeal (34), popcorn (30), canned corn (27), corn starch (23), corn tacos (21), corn flour (21), corn tortillas (10), corn grits (7), and cornbread mix(2)) were collected and analysed in this targeted survey. All samples were analysed for FMN using a multi-residue method that detects the FMN forms B1 and B2. Most of the samples (157/276 or 57%) had detectable levels of FMN. The total FMN levels ranged from 20 parts per billion (ppb) in corn chips and corn grits to 6650 parts per billion (ppb) in cornmeal.

There are no Canadian maximum levels, tolerances, or standards for fumonisins in corn products so compliance could not be determined. Eight products (four samples of corn cereals, two samples of corn grits, one sample of corn tortilla, and one sample of cornmeal) had higher concentrations of FMN (> 800 ppb). These results were evaluated and were considered unlikely to pose a concern to human health. Appropriate product follow-up actions were initiated that reflected the magnitude of the health concern.


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