Ochratoxin A in cocoa products

Cocoa products do not represent a major source of the potential carcinogen ochratoxin A in the diet but may need some monitoring.

The study examined the natural happenings of contamination from the mycotoxin ochratoxin A in samples of cocoa and chocolate products from various stages of the chocolate production process.

Dr Marina Copetti, from the Universidade Federal de Santa Maria, Brazil, said: “In the last decade concern has increased about human exposure to ochratoxin A, a possible carcinogen to humans, and consequently the interest in studies evaluating the sources of this contaminant in the diet”.

Previous research from the group had found aflatoxins to be present in over two thirds of the chocolate investigated with ochratoxin A found in 98% of the 125 samples of chocolate products.

In the previous research, the team called for continuous monitoring of both ochratoxin and aflatoxin in the chocolate production process “to guarantee a safe consumption of chocolate”.

As a result, the team now reports the analysis of 168 samples of different fractions from the cocoa and chocolate production process – including samples of shell, nibs, liquor, butter, cake and cocoa powder.

Copetti and her colleagues said the highest levels of ochratoxin A were found in the shell, cocoa powder and cocoa cake.

Copetti added: “The cocoa butter was the least contaminated, showing that ochratoxin A seems to remain in the defatted cocoa solids”.

She added that further investigation showed 93.6% of ochratoxin A present in cocoa beans at the start of the process was reduced during chocolate production.

The analysis of 168 samples revealed a ‘widespread and low contamination’ of cocoa products by ochratoxin A.

The team revealed a tendency for higher amounts of ochratoxin A in cocoa solids, noticing that shelling was the main process responsible for reduction of the contaminant in the chocolate production process.

The research team said: “About 93.6% of the ochratoxin A was reduced during the chocolate making process”.

Copetti and her co-workers said that when the amounts of ochratoxin A found in cocoa products is considered and applied to the production of chocolate powders, cakes, biscuits and similar products, “it is concluded that cocoa does not represent a major source of ochratoxin A in the diet”.

Despite such conclusions, the researchers reiterate their previous calls for constant monitoring to be carried out in the cocoa production process. They also recommended further research in order to find ways of preventing such contamination in the cocoa production chain.

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