What’s in a pickle?

Why dhusi or fungus does not scare us but it should.

Subecha Dahal, Senior Content Creator

June 21, 2017


In Nepali culture, most of us are not too scared by a slight growth of dhusi in our food. We think a little dhusi is not too bad. If you just throw the part with mould, it should be fine. But contrary to popular belief that whole bottle of achar, cheese, corn or garlic is now contaminated with aflatoxin and unfit for human or animal consumption.



Long term storage of maize in hot and humid conditions can make it prone to growth of Aspergillus fungus.

  • You see slight growth of dhusi on your aap-ko-achar (mango pickle). You just throw away those few pieces with mould on it and continue to use the rest of it.
  • You think it is okay to eat cheese if you just cut and throw away the part that is mouldy.
  • You hang some corn husks in your house to dry and see some mould in it. You think it is not fit for you or your family to eat, but you give it to your pet or cattle.
  • You see slight fungus in the garlic you bought. But you use it anyway. The heat while cooking should kill anything bad in it, right?

Wrong. If you do any of these things, STOP.

In Nepali culture, most of us are not too scared by a slight growth of dhusi in our food. We think a little dhusi is not too bad. If you just throw the part with mould, it should be fine. But contrary to popular belief that whole bottle of achar, cheese, corn or garlic is now contaminated with aflatoxin and unfit for human or animal consumption.


In Nepal particularly, effective food storage practice is not widely practiced. A long term inappropriate storage of food makes it vulnerable to mould and thus aflatoxin contamination.  


What is aflatoxin contamination and how does it contaminate our food?

Aflatoxin is a type of mycotoxin produced by fungus Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus which frequently contaminates agricultural and animal products. The Aspergillus fungus thrives in wet and warm climates in foods that are prone for fungal growth. The fungus is also found in soil around crops. Once these crops, for example, peanuts, are harvested and stored, the fungus continues to grow and produce aflatoxin. In Nepal particularly, effective food storage practice is not widely practiced. A long term inappropriate storage of food makes it vulnerable to mould and thus aflatoxin contamination.  

What kind of products are at risk for aflatoxin contamination?

In high heat and humid storage conditions, Aspergillus fungus can easily contaminate food items like corn, peanuts, wheat, oil seeds, pulses, soy, chillies, dry fruits, many other food items and even cosmetics.

How exactly does aflatoxin impact our health?

The effect can be two types. If someone consumes a large amount of food with aflatoxin at once, they could suffer from aflatoxin poisoning. Although this is rare. Second is long term consumption of aflatoxin in small doses. It could lead to following health conditions:

  • Aflatoxins are potent hepatotoxins and carcinogens, and can mainly cause liver cancer.
  • It can cause disturbances in urinary, digestive, nervous and reproductive system and stunted growth in children.
  • It can cause immuno-suppression, meaning reduced antibody production and lower cell immunity. People can lose resistance to HIV, TB and other infections.
  • Neonatal growth is largely affected as high exposure of aflatoxin in mothers leads to a lower weight-for-age in infants. The exposure generally occurs via breast milk.
  • Pregnant women with aflatoxin in their bloodstream leads to fetus metabolizing the toxin in their system as well. One study showed the presence of aflatoxin at unacceptably high levels in pregnant women in Nepal. 

In comparison to porous jute or plastic bags, storing grains in hermetic airtight bags reduces risk of fungal growth and thereby aflatoxin contamination.

Are animals affected too?

Similar to other food items, animal feed can be prone to aflatoxin contamination due to inappropriate storage. Even worse, food that is considered unfit for human consumption and visibly full of mould is given to animals to eat. It is assumed that this does not carry any risk, but aflatoxin is poisonous to animals. Additionally, aflatoxin can even be passed on to animal products, like meat, milk and eggs, which in turn finds it way to the human body.  

Why haven’t we already taken this more seriously?

Unlike many other toxic contamination, aflatoxin contamination usually does not show immediate effect on health. Its effects are longer term and more adverse. Lack of public awareness of the long term and adverse effects of aflatoxin is what makes the consumers disregard the contamination in their food. Also, people generally think of fungal infection as related to skin infections, rather than infection on the internal organs. There are also not a lot of initiatives taken by the government for aflatoxin monitoring or research in Nepal. Hence ultimately it needs to be an individual effort to safeguard yourself and your family.  


Aflatoxin can even be passed on to animal products, like meat, milk and eggs, which in turn finds it way to the human body.  


How can I protect myself from aflatoxin contamination?

First, do not take presence of fungus in food lightly. Do not consume the food if it shows any obvious presence. Second, become aware about the conducive conditions in which the fungus thrives and avoid those conditions around your food storage. The solutions can often be very simple.

  • Do not store grain and food products for long periods of time. Ideally consume it within 1-2 months.
  • Store food items in dry and cool area.
  • Always sun-dry grains and relevant food items before storing it.  
  • Ensure that the storage area is not damp and easily reached by water or rain. Pre-monsoon and monsoon seasons are more humid and prone to cause moisture damage. Care should be undertaken to control high moisture conditions in storage area.
  • Food items should be stored in airtight containers and bags that are not porous or easily penetrable. Jute and other porous bags allows moisture to enter easily.
  • It is important to sundry and store the grains immediately after harvest season. It is best if farmers do not wait too long after harvest.

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