Herbs derived from roots, leaves, flowers, or fruits of plants are unavoidably contaminated with fungi and mycotoxins during growth, harvest, and storage, thereby posing a health threat to humans. Especially, root herbs (RHs) are more easily contaminated with fungi and mycotoxins because the roots are in direct contact with the soil. Here, we investigated the occurrence of fungi, aflatoxins (AFs), and ochratoxin A (OTA) in eight RHs that are used as medicines, beverages, dietary supplements, and functional foods in China and other countries. Morphological observation and MultiGeneBlast (β-tubulin and calmodulin) were used to identify the potentially toxigenic fungi. Of the 48 samples tested, all were contaminated by fungi, and 1,844 isolates belonging to 25 genera were detected. The genera Aspergillus and Penicillium, which contain potentially toxigenic fungal species, represented a frequency of 10 and 25%, respectively. Thirty-three isolates of Aspergillus flavus, Aspergillus parasiticus, Aspergillus niger, and Penicillium polonicum were arbitrarily selected for analysis of their toxigenic potential. Five of 13 isolates of A. flavus and 1 isolate of A. parasiticus produced AFs, whereas OTA production was not detected for any of the isolates of A. niger and P. polonicum. The occurrence of AFs and OTA in the 48 samples of eight RHs was tested by ultraperformance liquid chromatography–tandem mass spectrometry; 37.50% of samples from six RHs were contaminated with AFs and 16.67% of samples from four RHs were contaminated with OTA. Seven (14.58%) and four (8.33%) samples of ginseng, polygala, and liquorice exceeded the permissible limits of aflatoxin B1 and AFs, respectively. Because ginseng, polygala, and liquorice are widely used as herbs, dietary supplements, and functional foods, the high frequency of AF contamination of these herbs indicated by our current study warrant attention to raise public awareness.
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