Assessment of handling practices and Aflatoxin contamination of maize flour from selected retail traders in Ibanda District, Western Uganda
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Aflatoxin contamination is a global public health threat that compromises the safety of food due to the carcinogenicity of aflatoxins and their ability to cause immunosuppression and retardation in both humans and animals. Food/ feed gets contaminated with aflatoxins at pre-harvest, harvest and post-harvest stages. This study assessed handling practices, aflatoxin contamination and the relationship between handling practices and aflatoxin contamination in dehulled and undehulled maize flour among selected retail traders in Ibanda district, Western Uganda. A questionnaire guide alongside making observations was used to assess the handling practices while aflatoxin presence was determined using thin layer chromatography (TLC). The moisture content of the samples was determined using the drying oven method. The relationship between the different handling practices and aflatoxin contamination was determined using Chi-square test in Software for Statistics and Data Science (Stata); all analyses done at 95% confidence interval (CI). Of the thirty (30) traders, most traders; repackaged the flour when customers came (60%), operated from permanent structures (53.3%), had pallets/ racks (60%), sold dehulled flour (66.7%) and sold the flour within a short time (60%). The mean moisture content of the samples was 10.03% which is within the recommended Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) safe levels of 12.5%. However, 4 (13.3%) samples had a percentage moisture content above the recommended safe levels. Undehulled maize flour had a higher mean moisture content (13.2%) than dehulled maize flour (10.65%). Of all the thirty (30) samples, 25 (83.3%) were positive for aflatoxin, 25 (83.3%) had aflatoxin B, 15 (50%) had aflatoxin G and 15 (50%) had both aflatoxin B and G. Duration of time in stock (p=0.047), stage when packaging was done (p=0.011) and hulling status (p= 0.002) had the greatest effect on aflatoxin contamination of the maize flour. Generally, maize flour among retail traders in Ibanda district is contaminated with aflatoxins. However, since this study involved qualitative detection of aflatoxins, it is difficult to conclude whether the aflatoxin contaminated maize flour was safe for human consumption or not. Therefore, a wider study involving aflatoxin quantification should be done to fully understand the extent of aflatoxin contamination in maize flour and other susceptible food commodities in Ibanda district and other regions of Uganda before appropriate measures are undertaken.