Moulds in tomatoes does not necessarily mean presence of aflatoxins – Researcher
Dr Mrs Rose Omari, a Principal Research Scientist, Science and Technology Policy Research Institute of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR-STEPRI), has described a recent tiktok video that links moulds in tomatoes to Aflatoxins that cause lung cancer in humans as “misleading.”
The video may be raising false alarm in relation to Aflatoxin and brings unsubstantiated information that Aflatoxin causes lung cancer, she stated.
Dr Omari, who was speaking in an interview with the Ghana News Agency in Accra, explained that she had not come across any research in Ghana that proved moulds found in tomatoes produce Aflatoxin and could lead to lung cancer as speculated in the tiktok video.
She explained that research had confirmed that Aflatoxin rather caused liver cancer.
However, a few studies have found an association between aflatoxin and lung cancer.
“It is good to advise the people to avoid mouldy tomatoes but linking it with Aflatoxin could be misleading if no tests have been conducted to confirm the presence of the toxins.
“From where she (tiktoker) was coming from, just the mere fact that the tomatoes have moulds, should not make her conclude that they have Aflatoxin, that is wrong and can cause fear and panic considering the importance of tomatoes in our diets.”
“I have not seen any test that has found Aflatoxin in tomatoes. We have to verify by going to the lab first, Dr Omari, who doubles as the Project Coordinator of the National Policy for Aflatoxin Control in Food and Feed, launched in Ghana last year, stated.
She, however, said the education by the tiktoker that people should avoid rotten tomatoes was good and should be adhered to because of the many harmful bacteria and microbial toxins that could be found in such tomatoes.
She explained that even apart from the moulds, the rotten tomato could be full of bacteria that also produce all kinds of toxins, which no amount of cooking could remove from it and could lead to various health consequences.
“Such toxins in tomatoes when cooked and eaten can cause food poisoning resulting in symptoms of diarrhoea, and vomiting, among others.
She, therefore, cautioned that any unusual thing on food should be treated as suspicious “because we can’t see bacteria with the naked eye and even for the moulds that are visible, you need a trained eye to determine whether they are the aflatoxin-producing moulds or not, so just avoid such food items.”
She urged Ghanaian researchers to rise up to the occasion to do more research on aflatoxin in different food commodities, including mouldy tomatoes.
Also, research on emerging food safety issues, including the reasons for the short life span of many food items during the storage processes.
Aflatoxin contamination is said to be highly prevalent in Ghana and mostly affect staple foods such as raw and processed products of maize, groundnut, sorghum, millet, kokonte (dried partially fermented cassava) spices as well as animal products such as meat, milk, fish and eggs, causing various ill-health and rejection of our food imports.
Aflatoxin exposure can cause nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and convulsions acutely, and chronic exposure could also lead to complications like liver damage, liver cancer, and immune suppression.