Through a recent notification, the FSSAI has asked for suggestions, views, and comments from stakeholders on the draft notification regarding fixation of the limits of aflatoxin in areca nut in the Food Safety and Standards (Contaminants, Toxins, and Residues) Regulations, 2011. In the regulation related to ‘Crop Contaminants and naturally occurring toxic’ the FSSAI has proposed to add the limits of Aflatoxin in Arecanut/Betelnut which shall be only15 µg/kg. The limits of aflatoxin were fixed for cereal and cereal products, pulses, nuts, and nuts for further processing, dried figs, oilseeds and oilseeds for further processing and spices but there were no limits for areca nut earlier.
Aflatoxins are fungi that can cause acute toxicity and it also has adverse effects on human health. The fungi responsible for the production of aflatoxins are mainly Aspergillus flavus and A.parasiticus. Four types of aflatoxins, B1, B2, G1 and G2 are the ones that commonly infest food items though there are others too. Among this B1 is considered to be the most potent and accounts for nearly 70% of the total aflatoxin content in food.
Areca nut is the fruit of the oriental palm, Areca catechu Linn. Arecanut is prone to the formation of mould growth during various stages of its production, storage, and transportation. Various studies have been carried out to check the occurrence of aflatoxins in the marketed areca nut or betel nut samples and infestation was found in a number of samples. Arecanut has high moisture content and if they are not processed and dried properly or are harvested prematurely or allowed to dry in heaps then they can become infested with fungi like aflatoxins. A contaminated areca nut pod will have a dark patch appearance inside the nut if it has been infested by fungi.
The use of areca nut or betel nut, in various forms as well as their use in pan masala is very common in our society. The chewing of areca nuts in India goes back to 650BC and it is one of the oldest foods used for chewing. Arecanut is marketed as ‘supari’ in India and two types of processed areca nut varieties are available called ‘red supari’ and ‘white supari.’ The ‘red supari’ type is obtained by boiling and drying dehusked unripe areca nutsat different stages of maturity. The ‘white supari’ is obtained by drying ripe areca nuts and dehusking them later on. Continuous consumption of aflatoxin-contaminated areca nut, even if aflatoxin is present in small doses, can lead to human health problems including cancer. Therefore controlling the presence of aflatoxin can safeguard consumers from the health hazards.