Research – Occurrence of Aflatoxins and Ochratoxin a during Merkén Pepper Powder Production in Chile



Berry fruits of Capsicum annuum L. cv. “Cacho de Cabra” are used for the manufacture of a traditional pepper powder known as Merkén. In the present study, aflatoxins (AFs) and ochratoxin A (OTA) contamination in berry fruits of C. annuum was determined at harvest, drying, and smoking stages of Merkén production, in cumin and coriander seeds used as Merkén ingredients, and in the final packaged Merkén produced by local farmers. Additionally, Merkén samples from local markets in the region of La Araucanía (Chile) were also evaluated. Chromatographic analysis was based on a qualitative method. AFs and OTA were not detected on pepper pods and seeds. There was no detection of AFs and OTA on cultured Aspergillus and Penicillium strains isolated from pepper pods, cumin and coriander seeds and Merkén. The lack of AFs/OTA-producers among the isolated fungal species can explain and support the absence of contamination in pepper pods. In contrast, the AFB1 was detected in 75% of Merkén obtained from farmers and 46% of Merkén samples purchased from local markets; while OTA was detected in 100% of Merkén samples obtained from farmers and local markets. In the Merkén production chain, the harvest and post-harvest are key stages for fungal growth while the commercialization stage is highly susceptible to AFs and OTA contamination.

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