Patulin - A Chemical Concern For Apple Producers & Processors


Factsheet - ISSN 1198-712X   -   Copyright Queen's Printer for Ontario
Agdex#: 211/57
Publication Date: 06/04
Order#: 04-043
Last Reviewed: 08/09
History:
Written by: Sandra Jones - On-Farm Food Safety Progam Lead/OMAFRA

Table of Contents

  1. What Is It?
  2. Why Is Patulin A Concern?
  3. What Is The Level Of Risk?
  4. How To Control Patulin Levels In Juice?
  5. Other Options To Reduce Toxin Levels At Processing?
  6. Summary


What Is It?

Patulin is a toxic chemical produced from a number of moulds such as Penicillium and Aspergillus. Although apples tend to be the major source, any mouldy or rotten fruit could contain this toxin.

Why Is Patulin A Concern?

Patulin has been found to cause a range of health problems in laboratory animals. There is concern that similar effects may occur in humans, which is why exposure should be kept as low as practically possible.

What Is The Level Of Risk?

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) believes risks are minimal for consuming juice containing patulin if processors control the level to 50 micrograms per kilogram (50 parts per billion (50 ppb)) or lower. The international organization Codex Alimentarius Commission (Codex) is considering reducing the maximum level to 25 ppb from 50 ppb due to the high intake of apple juice by young children and the possibility that they may exceed the acceptable daily intake.|

How To Control Patulin Levels In Juice?

The potential for high patulin levels to appear in fruit juice depends on several factors. There is no one factor that determines, in all situations, whether the juice contains high levels of patulin. The most significant indicators are:

  • Were fallen apples (grounders) used in the production of the juice? Fallen apples are more likely to contain high levels of patulin than apples picked from the tree.
  • What is the condition of the apples at the time of harvest? Apples with visible damage (e.g., rots, wounds, bird or insect damage, etc.) are more likely to contain high levels of patulin than apples without such visible defects.
  • How are the apples handled prior to storage? Apples bruised during handling are more likely to develop patulin.
  • What are the storage conditions of apples? Mould growth normally occurs in a warm, humid environment. Apples stored under abusive temperature or atmospheric conditions are more likely to have higher levels of patulin than apples stored under controlled conditions. Even a short transportation under bad conditions (humidity and temperature) may increase patulin levels significantly.
  • Are apples monitored during storage? Stored apples should be examined regularly for rot or mould and fruit removed before extensive damage occurs. A healthy looking apple can contain patulin (rotten core). A sampling plan should be in place to cut apples to determine if any have internal moulds. This may be more critical for specific varieties as indicated below.
  • Are apples culled or trimmed prior to juice production? Including a process step prior to pressing to physically remove any apples that show visible mycelia or rot will reduce patulin levels.

Not all apple varieties are equally affected by these factors. Current research suggests that varieties with an open calyx are a greater risk for patulin development within the core of the apple. In such a situation, damage to the fruit is not easily detected and the apple may not be removed prior to pressing. This is one reason why it is more practical for reduction rather than prevention of this toxin.

Other Options To Reduce Toxin Levels At Processing?

Patulin is also destroyed by fermentation, which means it is not found in either alcoholic fruit beverages or vinegar produced by fruit juices. Patulin will however survive the pasteurization process if present in the juice.

Summary

Patulin is a toxic chemical produced from a number of moulds such as Penicillium and Aspergillus. Although apples tend to be the major source, any mouldy or rotten fruit could contain this toxin.

 

The author would like to acknowledge Ana Matu - Chemical Food Safety Science Analyst/OMAFRA; John Henderson - Risk Management Specialist/OMAFRA; and Luis Garcia - Horticultural Food Scientist/OMAFRA for reviewing this Factsheet.


For more information:
Toll Free: 1-877-424-1300
E-mail: ag.info.omafra@ontario.ca