Food Res Int. 2021 Apr;142:110207. doi: 10.1016/j.foodres.2021.110207. Epub 2021 Feb 10.
Ochratoxin A (OTA) is a mycotoxin with nephrotoxic, genotoxic, teratogenic and carcinogenic properties, produced by several species of Aspergillus, mainly those belonging to the A. section Circumdati and A. section Nigri. Although this toxin has been detected in spices and condiments, in black pepper (Piper nigrum L.) few studies have investigated the mycobiota (based on a molecular approach) and the presence of OTA in this food. The aim of this study was to investigate the presence of potentially ochratoxigenic species and ochratoxin A in black pepper marketed in Brazil, one of the largest producers in the world. A total of 60 samples of black pepper (29 in powder and 31 in grain) were collected in markets. The presence of OTA was investigated in black pepper samples using High-Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC), OTA was detected in 55% of the samples, with levels ranging from 0.05 to 13.15 μg/kg, all of which were below the Brazilian legal tolerances. A. section Nigri and A. section Circumdati were found in 80% of the samples, but the species of A. section Nigri were significantly more frequent than those of A. section Circumdati. The potential for OTA production by fungal isolates was tested using the agar plug technique and confirmed by HPLC. Among the isolates belonging to A. section Nigri (n = 1,083) and A. section Circumdati (n = 129), 3.7% and 3.8%, respectively, were able to produce OTA in Yeast Extract Sucrose Agar (YESA). A total of 25 strains from A. section Circumdati and 64 from A. section Nigri were identified using molecular data. The following potentially ochratoxigenic species were found in black pepper: A. niger, A. welwitschiae, A. carbonarius, A. westerdijkiae and A. ochraceus. The occurrence of these species denotes the need for continuous monitoring of black pepper by regulatory bodies in order to safeguard consumers’ health.