Mycotoxins are highly toxic secondary metabolic products of moulds mainly produced by Fusarium, Aspergillus and Penicillium species. The most common and regularly encountered mycotoxins can be divided into six major categories: aflatoxins, zearalenone, trichothecenes, ochratoxins, fumonisins and ergot alkaloids.
Mycotoxins can be found in every variety of grain and forage produced for food and feed. They accumulate in food and feed crops in the field, during transportation or improper storage.
The structural, chemical, biological and toxicological properties of mycotoxins are diverse. Toxicity levels are extremely variable, depending on intake level, duration of exposure, animal species, sex, age, breed, physiological status, nutritional standing, environmental conditions (including hygiene, temperature, air conditioning, humidity, production density) and eventual synergisms between mycotoxins simultaneously present in feeds or foods. The main toxic effects are carcinogenicity, genotoxicity, teratogenicity, nephrotoxicity, hepatotoxicity, reproductive disorders and immunosuppression.