Course:FNH200/Lessons/Lesson 12/Page 12.3

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12.3 Types of Toxicants

Food toxicants can be classified in a variety of ways. The scheme in Table 12.1 is based on origin or occurrence of the toxicants, namely as naturally occurring toxicants (either constituents or contaminants), or environmental toxicants.

Table 12.1.Classification of some possible food toxicants

Naturally Occurring Toxicants:


Naturally Occurring Toxicants:


Environmental Toxicants
Cholinesterase inhibitors:
  • solanine in potatoes

Cyanogenic glycosides:

  • amygdalin in apple seeds


  • Sinigrin in cabbage

Protease inhibitors:

  • protease inhibitors in soy beans


  • Green leafy plants


  • beta-lactoglobulin in milk, peanut proteins, soy proteins
  • Aflatoxin
  • Patulin
  • Ochratoxin A
  • Vomitoxin
  • Zearalenone

Examples: aflatoxin in mouldy peanuts, vomitoxin in wheat

Bacterial toxins:

  • botulinum toxin
  • Staphylococcal toxin

Seafood Toxins:

  • Histamine
  • Saxitoxin
  • Domoic acid
  • Tetrodotoxin
Food packaging residues:
  • Monomers of plastic resins

Pesticide residues:

  • Herbicides
  • Insecticides
  • Fungicides

Example: malathion residues on fruit

Heavy metals:

  • Lead
  • Mercury
  • Cadmium

Examples: lead in vegetables; mercury in large ocean fish (eg. swordfish)

Animal drugs:

  • Antibiotics
  • Hormones

Examples: penicillin in milk


  • from soil or
  • from radioactive fallout