PENANG, 1 Dec - The low level of awareness regarding the dangers of mycotoxin contamination (fungal poisoning) of food in Malaysia is alarming.
Prof. Baharuddin Salleh, a lecturer at the School of Biological Sciences, Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), said that mycotoxins are toxic substances produced by fungal growth on food and agricultural products that are not properly protected or stored. According to him, the presence of mycotoxins in food has long-term adverse effects on human health, including the risk of cancer, kidney failure, liver cancer and even death.
"Therefore, proactive action should be taken to create public awareness as to the importance of food cleanliness and safety to prevent the growth of toxic fungi," he said.
He stated this during the press conference in conjunction with the First International Mycotoxin Conference 2010, which was held in Asia. The conference was officiated by Prof. Asma Ismail, the Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research and Innovation) USM.
Prof. Baharuddin added that even more alarming is the fact that mycotoxins grow easily in hot and wet climatic conditions, such as that experienced in Malaysia.
"Mycotoxins can withstand high temperatures and are accumulative in nature, that is, they cannot be destroyed completely and when they attach themselves to a human organ, they will continue to proliferate until they cause organ failure," he said.
High risk foods and those often contaminated by mycotoxins include canned food, rice, bread, processed meat, baby formula, animal feed and others. Prof. Baharuddin who is also the co-chairperson of the conference said diseases that are very often associated with mycotoxins are liver cancer and kidney failure.
"This conference is the best platform for scientists and professionals to discuss and find the most appropriate methods to tackle this problem and prevent it from continuing to affect people, especially the rural community and those in the low income bracket," he explained.
Meanwhile, more than 200 participants worldwide, including experts such as the Director of the Nutrition and Consumer Protection Division, FAO, Italy, Ezzedin Boutrif; the Co-ordinator of MycoRed, Etienne Duveiller; and the President of ISM, Deepak Bhatnagar took part in the 4-day conference, held from 1-4 December 2010.
This conference was co-organised by EU MycoRed, International Society of Mycotoxicolgy, International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) Mexico, Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the Institute of Sciences of Food Production of the National Research Council (ISPA-CNR), Italy.