A critical evaluation of health risk assessment of modified mycotoxins with a special focus on zearalenone
A comprehensive definition introducing the term “modified mycotoxins” to encompass all possible forms in which mycotoxins and their modifications can occur was recently proposed and has rapidly gained wide acceptance within the scientific community. It is becoming increasingly evident that exposure to such modified mycotoxins due to their presence in food and feed has the potential to pose a substantial additional risk to human and animal health. Zearalenone (ZEN) is a well-characterized Fusarium toxin. Considering the diversity of modified forms of ZEN occurring in food and feed, the toxicologically relevant endocrine activity of many of these metabolites, and the fact that modified forms add to a dietary exposure which approaches the tolerable daily intake by free ZEN alone, modified forms of ZEN present an ideal case study for critical evaluation of modified mycotoxins in food safety. Following a summary of recent scientific opinions of EFSA dealing with health risk assessment of ZEN alone or in combination with its modified forms, uncertainties and data gaps are highlighted. Issues essential for evaluation and prioritization of modified mycotoxins in health risk assessment are identified and discussed, including opportunities to improve exposure assessment using biomonitoring data. Further issues such as future consideration of combinatory effects of the parent toxin with its modified forms and also other compounds co-occurring in food and feed are addressed. With a particular focus on ZEN, the most pressing challenges associated with health risk assessment of modified mycotoxins are identified and recommendations for further research to fill data gaps and reduce uncertainties are made.