Meju, a raw material for doenjang preparation, is highly vulnerable to aflatoxin-producing fungi. The aim of this study was to evaluate the effect of a one-year fermentation on aflatoxins and aflatoxin-producing fungi in doenjang spiked with aflatoxins B1, G1, B2, and G2 and inoculated with toxigenic Aspergillus flavus. A significant reduction in aflatoxins was observed after a year of fermentation, measuring 92.58%, 100%, 98.69%, and 100% of B1, G1, B2, and G2, respectively. After a year of fermentation, 6.95 ± 3.64 µg/kg of total aflatoxin was detected, which represents a 97.88% reduction in the total aflatoxin compared with the initial value (328.83 ± 36.60 µg/kg). Several aflatoxin-degrading fungi (Aspergillus versicolor, Cladosporium subcinereum, Aspergillus ochraceus) and bacteria (Bacillus albus, Bacillus velezensis) isolated from doenjang were identified as the major contributors to the reduction of aflatoxin. Furthermore, it was observed that most of the aflatoxin contamination in doenjang occurred during the meju stage, and this stage was found to be most susceptible to A. flavus contamination and growth. These findings reveal that native microorganisms mediate aflatoxin clean-up in doenjang during fermentation and support the use of such microorganisms as a starter culture for the preparation of aflatoxin-free doenjang.
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