The alflatoxins are a group of toxic and carcinogenic chemicals produced by certain species of aspergillus. They can be found in any environment that is suitable for the growth of the mold, such as soil, hay, grains and vegetation. They are commonly found in improperly stored plant foodstuffs of all types including corn, peanuts, rice and wheat. The chemicals can survive processing and occasionally find their way into processed foods. They can also be passed on to animals that feed on contaminated food and passed on in the food chain in both meat and eggs.
Children are particularly susceptible to the toxins, although they can affect adults as well. The liver is the organ most susceptible to damage as it processes the toxins.
Aflatoxin poisoning can be acute, characterized by sudden onset of symptoms, or chronic, which is usually characterized by developmental delay. In acute cases, the patient is usually treated with vitamins and dietary changes that cut back on carbohydrates in favor of proteins.
Presence of the molds does not in and of itself indicate contamination, but it is a risk factor. The molds that produce aflatoxins thrive in high humidity environments, but can also affect plants that are stressed by other factors, such as drought.