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Red Chili Pepper: Flavorant or health risk
P. SINGH (1), M. S. Islam (2), P. J. Cotty (1). (1) University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, U.S.A.; (2) ARS, USDA, Tucson, AZ, U.S.A.

Aflatoxins are hepatotoxic carcinogens that frequently contaminate crops resulting in economic losses and health hazards. The filamentous fungus <i>Aspergillus flavus </i>is the most frequently implicated causal agent of aflatoxin contamination. Red chili pepper (<i>Capsicum spp.) </i>is one of the most consumed spices worldwide. Chilies are frequently contaminated with unacceptable levels of aflatoxins because many chilies are produced in warm regions that favor <i>A. flavus </i>growth. The current study examined prevalence of aflatoxin contamination in dried red chili, and identified causal agents of chili contamination with aflatoxin. Chili (whole, ground and crushed) and paprika were purchased from different cities across USA and Bangladesh and tested for total aflatoxin using a lateral flow assay. Overall, 93% of US samples and all samples from Bangladesh contained detectable levels of aflatoxins. The highest concentrations of aflatoxins detected in the US and Bangladesh were 68.8 µg kg<sup>−1 </sup>and 105.7 µg kg<sup>−1</sup>, respectively. The L morphotype of <i>A. flavus</i> was the most frequently isolated member of <i>Aspergillus</i> section <i>Flavi</i>. No fungal colonies were detected from 60% of US samples contaminated with aflatoxins, probably reflecting fumigation or treatment with heat or irradiation prior to supply to markets. Relationships among aflatoxin producers and atoxigenic <i>A. flavus</i> associated with chilies were determined by comparison of both DNA sequence and simple sequence repeats.

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