Dioxins, pesticide residues, mineral oil components, microplastics and perpetual chemicals such as per- and polyfluorinated chemicals (PFAS) - the list could easily go on - dominate the discussion forums on food safety in Europe.


It is often forgotten that nature itself has developed highly dangerous toxins that can also pose a potential health risk in our food.

A representative survey commissioned by the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) revealed that 53 per cent of respondents had never heard of plant toxins. And of those who had heard of them, only 27 per cent were aware of the risks, while 63 per cent of respondents were concerned about pesticide residues in food. The study shows that the health risks posed by natural toxins are underestimated.


Which foods should never be eaten raw? As many as 15 per cent answered this question with ‘potatoes’. Tomatoes (12%) and green beans (9%) followed in second and third place in this open question.

It is true that the toxin solanine in raw potatoes and raw green tomatoes is only destroyed during cooking or frying.

Green beans contain the toxin phasin, which causes the red blood cells to clump together. In young children, just 5-6 raw beans are enough to cause severe symptoms of poisoning.


Many consumers also still believe that if there is visible mould on the jam, it is sufficient to remove it generously or simply cut off a thick slice of bread if it is mouldy. Many of the respondents were unaware that the highly carcinogenic mycotoxins produced by the moulds had already spread throughout the jam jar or the rest of the loaf.


Plants have to protect themselves from their predators. Some grow thorns, others have developed highly effective toxins to spoil the caterpillar's appetite. Many of these biotoxins are also toxic to humans, for example the pyrrolizidine alkaloids found in various flowering plants. They can accidentally end up in dried herbs or tea blends, for example, if good manufacturing practice is not followed.


YOUR PLUS: The specialists in the AGROLAB GROUP's food laboratories know the risks of natural toxins in raw materials and foodstuffs. We advise our customers on sensible test plans to systematically identify such risks and minimise them through targeted analyses.


Author: Dr. Frank Mörsberger