Aflatoxin contamination is a serious food safety concern. Aflatoxins are toxic metabolites produced by the molds A. flavus and A. parasiticus. If present in sufficient amounts, they may cause acute toxicity and are known carcinogens for some animals. Peanuts, tree nuts, corn, and other small grains are susceptible to aflatoxin contamination. Peanuts are particularly susceptible to contamination during growth and storage. The aflatoxin producing molds exist throughout the peanut growing areas and may produce aflatoxin in peanuts when conditions are favorable to fungal growth.
In the early 1960ís, aflatoxin first came to the attention of the scientific communities of the world as a result of several outbreaks and deaths of numerous turkeys and pigs. The Food and Drug Administration then established maximum permissible levels of aflatoxin in food by the authority of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938, as amended. Effective July 12, 1965, the peanut industry and the United States Department of Agriculture entered into an agreement to regulate the quality of domestically produced peanuts. Called the Marketing Agreement for Peanuts 146, it established the Peanut Administrative Committee (PAC) to administer the agreement.
The Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002, signed into law on May 13, 2002, provided for the elimination of the PAC, rendering the Peanut Marketing Agreement non-functional. As a result, all peanuts intended for human consumption must now be analyzed for aflatoxin as required by 7 CFR Part 996. Laboratories analyzing official samples of peanuts must be USDA or USDA-approved laboratories. The Peanut Aflatoxin Program is conducted by Agricultural Marketing Service of USDA by authority of 7 CFR Part 996, and the Memorandum of Understanding for aflatoxin testing of domestic peanuts between FDA and USDA.