Ochratoxin A

January 4th, 2006

An unlikely title for a post I know.

I became curious about this after seeing all the adverts for testing equipment in the trade magazines. It concerned me there were such stringent guidelines on something that I knew next to nothing about.
So here is a little information about ochratoxin:

Ochratoxin is a mycotoxin- a toxin produced by certain fungi. It is not unique to coffee, and can contiminate foods such as cereals, dried fruit, beans, cocoa and drink such as beer, wine and milk. There is a long list of worrying words describing ochratoxin including nephrotoxic (a toxin specific to kidney cells), carcinogenic and immunosuppressive. Not very pleasant, especially given that the half life of its breakdown is the longest of any species studied.

There are two known actions on the body: Inhibition of protein synthesis and an increase in oxygen reactive radicals. Ironically the second can be counteracted by a diet containing plenty of antioxidants, which coffee is well known to contain.
Debate surrounds the claim that it is destroyed in the roasting process, and it extremely soluble in water, so most of it makes its way into the cup.

But – there is some good news!

Doing everything better, from picking to drying to shipping and storage, the lower the risk of contamination. Equally good news is that the content of ochratoxin is higher in the husks, so it is more likely found in soluble coffee where the chance of adulteration with husks and parchment is higher. Europe has the more stringent legislation (no surprise there!) and coffee falls well within the safety limits. You’d have to drink a lot of bad coffee before you really got into trouble. One study showed that you drinking 4 cups with 0.8ppb of ochratoxin a day would be the equivalent of 2% of the allowed intake.

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