True Cellular Formulas Team - Jan 17, 2023
Is Your Peanut Butter Moldy?
There may be danger lurking in your peanut butter and jelly sandwich due to a dangerous mold called aflatoxins. Today we unpack aflatoxins, why they’re harmful, how to avoid them, and what to do about previous exposures.
Aflatoxins are a class of toxic compounds produced by certain molds in food. Consumption of contaminated food with mycotoxins leads to adverse effects on human health, such as carcinogenic, estrogenic, neurotoxic, hepatotoxic, teratogenic, and even immunosuppressive effects, further causing acute or chronic diseases like liver damage and cancer.1-2 Aflatoxins are found not only in peanuts but also in corn, cottonseed, coffee, cassava, oats, other tree nuts, and dried fruits.
The main fungi that produce aflatoxins are Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus, which are common in warmer and humid regions worldwide.2 Crops can become contaminated by Aflatoxin-producing fungi in the field, at harvest, or during storage.3
Under FDA regulations, manufacturers can have a maximum of 20 PPB (20ug/kg) total aflatoxins in food products.4 Aflatoxins are a group of four toxins called AFG1, AFG2, AFB1, and AFB2. Legally, the amount of these 4 compounds cannot be greater than 20 PPB. The safe limit for human consumption of aflatoxins is between 4 to 30 ug/kg.5
Although many peanut butters on the shelves test for just below the FDA regulation of 20 PPB, the responsibility then lies on the consumer to know what dose is considered “safe” as per their body weight. This is difficult to do since no companies that sell high-aflatoxin-containing peanut butter are disclosing their numbers, and most of the population isn’t even aware of these “safe” ranges in the first place. One might also argue that no amount of mold is ideal for human consumption, so avoiding them altogether is probably best.
Luckily not all peanut butter contains high aflatoxins (some have undetectable amounts), but let’s start with the brands you should avoid.
The Naughty List
- JIF peanut butter6
- Freshly ground peanut butter from most bulk or organic stores6
Note that aflatoxins can be found in all peanut-containing products, including peanut candy and chocolates7.
The Good List
- Trader Joe’s Organic Peanut Butter
- Organic Jungle Peanut Butter
- Maranatha Organic Peanut Butter
- Crazy Richards Peanut Butter
- Once Again Peanut Butter
What to Do About It?
1. Switch to Mold-Free PB
There are various ways aflatoxins can make their way into your peanuts and peanut butter, and understanding how can help you choose a safer product. One of the biggest issues is moisture at every step of the process, so mold can grow anytime peanut butter sits for long periods in unregulated, fluctuating, or moist environments.11 Sticking to local, organic peanut butter is ideal so that you know it hasn’t traveled for a long time overseas to get to you. “Grind your own” peanut butter at organic stores tends to test up high for aflatoxins since the peanuts sit for long periods in warm environments.
Choose peanut butter made with Valencia peanuts because they are less likely to have aflatoxins than other peanuts. Most Valencia peanuts come from New Mexico, where the climate is dry; therefore, they are less susceptible to developing aflatoxins.12
Making peanut butter at home can mitigate the mold by soaking, sprouting, de-hulling, and roasting your peanuts before using them. Opting for Valencia peanuts is a great solution too.
Finally, you can ferment your peanut butter to remove any traces of aflatoxins in your peanuts.6
2. Use Other Nut Butter
All tree nuts are susceptible to developing aflatoxins, but peanuts and pistachios are the worst offenders1. Switching to other nuts already reduces the likelihood of exposure, including almond butter or cashew butter. Making them from home is always best, so you can see the nuts’ quality (choosing whole nuts that don’t have black spots and don’t smell moldy).
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Peanut butter can be your friend or foe, depending on a few factors, including the presence of a mold called aflatoxin. This group of molds is common in peanuts when humidity is present, contaminating peanuts and peanut-based products like peanut butter and peanut candies. Luckily, you can avoid the harms of aflatoxins by buying mold-free brands, opting for Valencia peanuts, and using other nut-based butter. Detoxing from aflatoxins is possible with products like activated charcoal and, of course, by mitigating any future exposure.
- Wacoo, Alex P., et al. “Methods for Detection of Aflatoxins in Agricultural Food Crops.” Journal of Applied Chemistry, vol. 2014, 2014, pp. 1–15., doi:10.1155/2014/706291.
- Macri, Adrian Maximilian et al. “The Occurrence of Aflatoxins in Nuts and Dry Nuts Packed in Four Different Plastic Packaging from the Romanian Market.” Microorganisms vol. 9,1 61. 28 Dec. 2020, doi:10.3390/microorganisms9010061
- “Aflatoxins - Cancer-Causing Substances.” National Cancer Institute, www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/substances/aflatoxins.
- “Aflatoxins in Human Food.” Food and Drug Administration, www.fda.gov/media/149666/download.
- Mahato, Dipendra K., et al. “Aflatoxins in Food and Feed: An Overview on Prevalence, Detection, and Control Strategies.” Frontiers in Microbiology, vol. 10, 2019, doi:10.3389/fmicb.2019.02266.
- “Aflatoxins in Peanut Butter (How Much Do the Leading Brands Have?).” Eat Beautiful, 1 Dec. 2022, eatbeautiful.net/aflatoxins-in-peanut-butter-how-much-do-the-leading-brands-have/.
- Lien, Keng-Wen et al. “Assessing Aflatoxin Exposure Risk from Peanuts and Peanut Products Imported to Taiwan.” Toxins vol. 11,2 80. 1 Feb. 2019, doi:10.3390/toxins11020080
- “Nut Butter Health & Nutrition Information.” Maranatha, 19 Oct. 2017, www.maranathafoods.com/health-facts/health-nutrition/.
- “Natural Peanut Butter and Aflatoxins.” Crazy Richard's, 8 Mar. 2019, www.crazyrichards.com/articles/naturalpeanutbutterandaflatoxins/.
- “Products Page” Once Again, www.onceagainnutbutter.com/pages/products.
- Chen, Ying-Chun, et al. “Survey of Aflatoxin Contamination in Peanut Products in Taiwan from 1997 to 2011.” Journal of Food and Drug Analysis, vol. 21, no. 3, 2013, pp. 247–252., doi:10.1016/j.jfda.2013.07.001.
- “New Mexico Peanut Production.” New Mexico State University, pubs.nmsu.edu/_circulars/CR645/index.html.
- Zellner, Tobias et al. “The Use of Activated Charcoal to Treat Intoxications.” Deutsches Arzteblatt international vol. 116,18 (2019): 311-317. doi:10.3238/arztebl.2019.0311