Mushrooms in food | health network

Edible mushrooms

Fungi are part of the microorganisms just like bacteria. Microorganisms are living organisms that are so small that you cannot see them with the naked eye. They are only visible if there are many of them. One can often recognize fungi on woolly threads that are green, white or red. Some fungi are useful and not harmful. Think blue cheese, where the mushrooms give a characteristic taste. Examples include brie and camembert; dut is white mold cheese. There are also blue cheeses like Gorgonzola, Stilton, Roquefort and Bleu Viking. Fungi also fall under the fungi; they are the fruiting bodies of the fungi. Many mushrooms are edible, such as mushrooms, oyster mushrooms, shiitake, chanterelles and truffles. They have a tasty taste, also known as umami. Furthermore, the meat substitute Quorn is made from edible mushrooms.

musty food

We also know other mushrooms on our food. You know, those colored fuzzy shapes on something that’s been in the fridge for too long. Then there is the spoilage of fungi. Some of these molds produce toxins known as mycotoxins (from the Greek words mikes for mold and toxin for poison). There are hundreds of different fungal toxins. If you ingest it, it can lead to acute food poisoning with symptoms such as nausea, diarrhea, stomach cramps and vomiting. Very annoying, but it usually goes away on its own within a few days. But there are also fungal toxins, which are really toxic (see table). If you regularly consume food with small amounts of these fungal toxins, it can cause liver and kidney damage and eventually it can even lead to cancer.

throw everything away

Therefore, it is wise not to eat musty food. You do not know if it is a harmless fungus or one that gives you food poisoning or even worse, one that produces very ugly fungal toxins. And by not eating musty food, we mean throwing everything away. It is not enough just to scoop the visible mold out of, for example, jam or apple puree. Often the fungus is already present in the rest of the product without you noticing it. An exception is hard cheese like Gouda cheese. Mold only grows on hard cheese on the outside. By cutting at least 1 inch around the visible shape, you can remove the shape completely. You can then eat the rest of the cheese without any problems.

Tips to prevent mold spoilage

  • Store fresh ingredients in a cool, dry place. Fresh vegetables and fresh meat in the fridge and make sure products like herbs and bread are dry.
  • Discard moldy products. So do not make mold from, for example, jam or apple puree, but throw away the whole glass.
  • You can cut mold on hard cheese. Cut away about 1 cm around the mold spot.
  • Cover food in the fridge.

Invisible fungal toxins

In addition to edible molds and visible molds, there is another ugly category: Mold toxins that are in foods without you seeing them. They ended up in it during cultivation or production. And this is no exception: it is about very diverse foods. Think of grains, nuts and peanuts and all foods made from them, such as bread and other grain products, peanut butter, vegetable oil and beer. Furthermore, fungicides can be found in coffee and cocoa beans, herbs and spices, legumes and fruits as well as in foods made from them, such as chocolate, raisins, dried figs and wine. Fungal toxins can also be found in animal feed and thus animals that eat this feed ingest fungal toxins. These toxins then end up in meat, milk, dairy products and eggs.

How do mold toxins get into all of these foods?

Fungal toxins end up in the products, for example, via fungi from the soil. During the growth of plants, they penetrate into the crop from the soil. For example, the soil fungus Fusarium produces unseen toxins during the growth of wheat and corn. Other fungi, such as Aspergillus, are active after harvest. These occur mainly when products are kept moist and warm. If part of the crop is visibly musty, it will be thrown away. But as with musty food at home, it is not enough. The fungi and toxins can spread further through the harvest and end up in purchased foods. Without you seeing it from the outside. And the problem with mold toxins is that they are very persistent. They tolerate heat well, so cooking or baking does not help. Even when heated to 300 ° C, the toxic effect does not decrease. They can also withstand the cold well and freezing does not make fungal substances harmless.

Control of fungal toxin

Fortunately, in the Netherlands there is a good check for fungicides in foods. The maximum tolerable daily or weekly intake (TDI or TWI) has been determined for the most common fungal toxins. It is the amount of a substance that you can ingest every day or every week for life without it being harmful to your health. Against this background, European legislation has set the maximum amount of fungicides that may be contained in food. For example, there must be a maximum of 2 nanograms of aflatoxin in 1 kilo of grain. It is very little, especially when you consider that a grain of salt weighs about 58,000 nanograms. The Dutch Food and Consumer Safety Authority (NVWA) randomly checks whether foods do not contain more fungal toxins than these European standards. Because these are random samples, it cannot be ruled out that foods with too many fungicides will still be on the market. Research shows that mold toxins are in more than half of the foods controlled. Normally, the quantities remain below the standard, but it is estimated that 1 in 5 samples exceeds the standard, after which products must be withdrawn from the market. An overrun does not automatically mean that your health is in danger. Safety margins are built into the standards. According to the Nutrition Center, the health benefits of whole grains, nuts, legumes and fruits far outweigh all possible health risks.

Fungal toxin (mycotoxin) Comes up Effect on health
aflatoxin nuts, grains, herbs, (legumes) fruits

Acute: abdominal pain, liver damage, jaundice

Regular intake: Liver cancer
Harmful to unborn children


Cereal products, cereal products

Regular intake: liver and kidney damage

Ergotalkaloids (ergot) Rye, wheat, barley, millet and oats

Acute: narrowing of blood vessels, death of limbs,
muscle cramps, paralysis and
mental disorders (Saint Anthony’s Fire)


Corn, corn products, wheat Acute: abdominal pain, diarrhea.
Regular intake: esophageal cancer,
spina bifida in unborn child
Ochratoxin A Cereals, coffee, raisins Regular intake: kidney damage,
possibly carcinogenic
patulin Apples, apple juice, apple syrup Only toxic at high doses in experimental animals
Sterigmatocystin cheese crust Building blocks for aflatoxin, less toxic
and carcinogenic than aflatoxin
type A (T2 and HT2)
Wheat, corn, legumes Acute: vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea,
dizziness. After high dose of lethal
bone marrow degradation

(DON), Nivalenol and

Cereals: wheat, corn, barley Acute: vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, headache
Zearalenone Corn, rice, bananas Regular intake:
early puberty and
Decreased fertility

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