The extent of Aflatoxin and Aspergillus section Flavi, Penicillium spp. and Rhizopus spp. contamination of peanuts from households in western Kenya and the causative factors of contamination.
Peanuts contribute significantly to food security in western Kenya due to their high nutritional value and cash crop potential. However, the crop is highly susceptible to aflatoxin contamination. Yet little information is available on the extent of contamination in the region. This study explores the level and extent of contamination of peanuts by aflatoxins, Aspergillus section Flavi, Rhizopus and Penicillium spp. in western Kenya. A survey of 769 households was carried out in the Busia and Homa bay districts of Kenya. Information on peanut pre- and post-harvest practices was collected through person-to-person interviews. Aflatoxin levels of samples collected from each household were determined by indirect competitive ELISA method. Isolation of Aspergillus section Flavi, Penicillium and Rhizopus spp. was done on Modified Dichloran Rose Bengal (MDRB) agar, while identification of specific fungal species was done on Czapek yeast extract agar (CYA). Screening isolates of A. flavus and A. parasiticus for aflatoxin production was done in high sucrose yeast extract (YES) liquid medium, and the aflatoxin types identified on TLC plates, using analytical grades of aflatoxin B1, B2, G1 and G2 as reference standards. Common household preparation techniques (roasting, making peanut paste and boiling peanuts) were evaluated for effectiveness in reducing aflatoxin levels in peanuts. The boiling procedure was modified to test the effect of magadi (locally available salt used mainly to soften legumes, vegetables or maize while cooking), ammonium persulphate and sodium hypochlorite during soaking. Magadi, sodium bicarbonate and locally prepared ash was subsequently used to boil the nuts after soaking. Aflatoxin levels ranged from zero to 7525 ìg/kg. Most samples were safe to consume, based on the European Union and Kenya Bureau of Standards tolerance levels, with 63.7 per cent of all samples having undetectable levels, and only 7.54 per cent being contaminated based on KEBS standards. Peanuts from the Busia district, which has more of Lower Midland 1 (mean annual rainfall of 1600-1800 mm) and Lower Midland 2 (mean annual rainfall of 1300-1700 mm) agro-ecological zones had significantly (÷2=14.172; P=0.0002) higher levels of aflatoxin compared to the Homa bay district, that has more of the drier Lower Midland 3 agroecological zone (mean annual rainfall of 900-1500mm). Improved cultivars had significantly (÷2=9.748; P=0.0018) lower levels of aflatoxin compared to local cultivars. Over 60 per cent of all samples had A. flavus S-strain, A. flavus L-strain and A. niger. A. flavus S-strain was positively correlated with aflatoxin levels. As expected, grading of peanuts post-harvest significantly reduced the incidence of A. flavus S- and L-strains, while peanuts collected from farmers who belonged to producer marketing groups had a significantly lower incidence of A. flavus S- and L-strains, A. niger and Rhizopus spp. The incidence of A. flavus L-strain, A. niger and Rhizopus spp. was significantly higher in local landraces compared to the improved cultivars. Over 60 per cent of isolates produced Aflatoxin B1. Intermediate processes such as sorting and dehusking led to a significant decline in levels of aflatoxin. Soaking peanuts in water, magadi, NaOCl and ammonium persulphate significantly reduced aflatoxin levels by 27.7, 18.4, 18.3 and 1.6 per cent respectively; while boiling the peanuts in magadi, local ash, baking powder and water reduced aflatoxin levels by 43.8, 41.8, 28.9 and 11.7 per cent respectively. Using magadi during boiling increased the acceptability of the boiled peanuts while reducing the aflatoxin levels. The impact of aflatoxin levels in peanuts studied in this research is within safe limits except a few samples, and therefore aflatoxin contamination of peanuts at household level is not a serious threat. Contamination by aflatoxin and post-harvest fungi can be reduced by focusing on improved control strategies for wetter and more humid zones such as planting improved peanut cultivars and controlling pre-harvest pest damage. Conventional household peanut preparation techniques should be explored as possible aflatoxin management strategies in Kenya. The aflatoxin binding properties of locally available salts such as magadi and locally prepared ash should be further investigated.
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