Aflatoxins Are a Food Safety
and Business Risk
Aflatoxins are naturally occurring chemicals produced by certain molds. The main health concern of aflatoxins is their potential carcinogenicity.
Aflatoxin producing molds are common in nature, affecting a number of crops, including almonds. The mold spores are found in the soil and in dust in the air. Contamination may spread from previously infested almonds (mummy nuts), navel orangeworm (NOW) or other pests. Spores of the molds can be transferred by the NOW and grow on nut meats that have been damaged. Favorable conditions for mold growth include high moisture content and high temperatures.
Because they are a potent carcinogen, tolerances for aflatoxins have been established to reduce risk of exposure. When almonds are tested in the lab for aflatoxins and are found to have levels above the allowable limits, the consignment will have to be reprocessed or rejected with significant monetary losses to the grower and handler.
One of the largest markets for California almonds—the European Union (EU)—also has one of the lowest allowable limits for aflatoxin contamination on almonds. Increased rejections of California almond consignments have led to additional import monitoring in the EU. As of September 1, 2007, the EU implemented Special Measures, which called for mandatory testing of California almonds imported to EU member countries. When almonds are rejected, significant costs are involved. Industry estimates suggest that each rejected consignment can cost as much as $10,000 for demurrage, warehousing, replacement shipments and other expenses. The costs can climb higher if the almonds must be reprocessed to reduce the level of aflatoxins. It is also possible that the consignment will be destroyed, leading to significant economic impact on both the grower and the handler.
The California almond industry developed a Voluntary Aflatoxin Sampling Plan (VASP) comparable to the EU sampling procedures so that almonds can be uniformly tested before they are shipped to the EU. These procedures are considered to provide sufficient assurances, such that almonds shipped with a VASP certificate are subject to approximately 5% testing on import in Europe, whereas without a VASP certificate almonds will be subject to 100% control.
Download The High Costs of Aflatoxins Fact Sheet - April 2008