'Toxic' peanut butter recalled

Pick n Pay recalled these three products from its shelves countrywide, after they were found to have higher than regulated levels of aflatoxin. Pictures: Supplied

Pick n Pay recalled these three products from its shelves countrywide, after they were found to have higher than regulated levels of aflatoxin. Pictures: Supplied

Published Feb 24, 2024


Certain brands of South Africa’s popular sandwich spread - peanut butter - have come under scrutiny after it was found to contain high levels of aflatoxin, which can pose a serious health risk.

Aflatoxins are a family of toxins produced by certain fungi that are found on agricultural crops such as maize (corn), peanuts, cottonseed and tree nuts.

According to health experts, the consumption of a product with higher than regulated levels of aflatoxin could lead to serious health complications, including liver cancer.

The National Consumer Commission (NCC), a consumer watchdog, said they are currently conducting an investigation into peanut butter manufacturer, House of Natural Butters.

This comes after several of their products had to be recalled in the past few weeks due to it having a higher than legally acceptable level of aflatoxins as set out under the R1145 Regulation Governing Tolerance of Fungus - Produced Toxins in Foodstuffs.

The NCC said high levels of aflatoxin may lead to health complications, not limited to nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain.

Earlier this month, Pick n Pay recalled three brands, including its No Name smooth peanut butter, as well as Eden smooth and Eden crunch, which are sold in their stores countrywide.

In a statement, the retailer said following in-house standard testing, these products were found to have higher than regulated levels of aflatoxin, which may constitute a health risk.

“Aflatoxin is a naturally occurring mycotoxin, but the levels we detected were higher than the regulatory threshold. All stocks of these products have already been removed from all stores countrywide. No other peanut butter brand at Pick n Pay is involved in the recall.

“The health and safety of our customers is our priority. Customers who might have bought these peanut butter products are urged to return them to Pick n Pay for a full refund if any product has an expiry date between now and July 2025.”

Last week, Dis-chem said they had recalled their Lifestyle Food peanut butter range, both smooth and crunchy (400g and 800g).

It said, in a statement, Dis-Chem pharmacies had identified a batch exceeding the permissible levels of aflatoxin, as defined by its stringent internal specifications and regulatory standards.

“This proactive recall reflects our dedication to customer well-being and our adherence to the highest legal and safety standards. We believe in taking decisive action to safeguard our consumers’ health.”

They urged customers, who purchased any of the affected products, to return them to a Dis-Chem pharmacy for a full refund.

“The offer also extends to any other Lifestyle Food peanut butter products, regardless of batch number or whether the products have been opened or not. Your safety and trust are paramount to us, and we are committed to maintaining the quality and integrity of our products.”

Thezi Mabuza, the NCC’s acting commissioner, said failing to meet the quality standards rendered the brands unsafe for human consumption.

“The commission urges the manufacturers, distributors and suppliers of peanut butter to comply with regulations and conduct urgent tests to assess the safety of the products on their shelves and take immediate corrective steps if found to be unsafe.

“The Consumer Protection Act requires that goods that pose any risk of harm to the consumer be recalled. It is the responsibility of the manufacturers, importers and retailers to ensure that goods comply with all applicable laws and standards of South Africa,” she said.

Mabuza said the NCC would also conduct a nationwide assessment to establish whether other brands were also affected.

Professor Anil Chuturgoon, a dean of research at UKZN’s College of Health Sciences, said aflatoxin contamination in the recalled peanut butters was worrisome from a health perspective.

Chuturgoon holds a master’s degree focusing on aflatoxin biosynthesis.

“Aflatoxins are toxins produced by moulds such as aspergillus flavus and aspergillus parasiticus. These moulds are commonly found on peanuts.

“Aflatoxins are a group of toxins and the most potent is Aflatoxin B1(AFB1). AFB1 is a potent hepatocarcinogen and if consumed at high levels over a long period of time can lead to liver cancer. In Africa, the aetiological agents for liver cancer were AFB1 and Hepatitis B virus," he said.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), aflatoxins are considered to be genotoxic carcinogens that induce tumours in the liver of animals and humans. The toxins can also be found in the milk of animals that are fed contaminated feed, in the form of aflatoxin M1.

“Large doses of aflatoxins can lead to acute poisoning (aflatoxicosis) and can be life threatening, usually through damage to the liver. Aflatoxins have also been shown to be genotoxic, meaning they can damage DNA and cause cancer in animal species.”


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