The FDA recently issued a communication warning the public about tainted peanut products. These products are available for purchase in stores and by ambulant and street vendors and pertain mostly to adobo (fried peanuts with garlic) and nilaga (boiled) peanuts. According to the FDA, some of these products were tested and found to be contaminated with the cancer-causing fungi Aflatoxin B1, a byproduct of mold.
Peanuts are supposed to be thoroughly dried after they have been harvested. If they remain moist in the least, molds can begin growing on them, forcing the rotting of the peanut prematurely. The Aflatoxin and other mycotoxins are produced as waste by mold, when they feed from the grain.
Aflatoxin is regarded as one of the most common carcinogenic mycotoxins which are naturally produced by particular fungi species. Kenneth Hartigan-Go, Director General of the FDA stated “The FDA laboratory has tested several pre-packaged peanuts, both imported and locally manufactured, that contained levels of Aflatoxin B1 beyond the acceptable limit of 20 ppb (ug/kg).” The adobo and nilaga peanuts the public has been warned against are suspected of also carrying the same fungus well over the allowed limit.
Aflatoxin, scientifically known as Aspergillus Flavus, is an anti-nutrient toxin. According to Hartigan-Go “Aflatoxin binds proteins, vitamins, and minerals so that the body cannot absorb the nutrients." In children, aflatoxin can stunt growth and can lead to kwashiorkor, a debilitating disease of nutritional deficiency in children. If ingested over a prolonged period of time in large doses, the poison can also inhibit the immune system.”
Hartigan-Go also warned the public that mutations in the consumers’ DNA, caused by prolonged exposure to the fungus, could also increase their risk of developing cancer. The FDA has yet to disclose brands associated with the prepackaged peanuts they tested. Hartigan-Go stated that the investigation aimed at pinpointing the source of contamination is ongoing, and that consumers should only purchase FDA approved prepackaged products to ensure their safety. He concluded “Although aflatoxin makes peanuts taste bitter, some unscrupulous food processors or peanut vendors simply mix these bad peanuts with the good ones rather than throw them out.” According to Hartigan-Go, the mixing of contaminated ingredients with unadulterated ones, while prohibited since 2009 by the FDA ACT and the Consumer Act of the Philippines, is still an issue.