Chilli-cancer link a hot topic

Friday, 25 August 2000

The Adelaide University newspaper, Adelaidean (14 August 2000), ran a story on Dr Andreas Klieber's research into growing and processing chillies in Australia. The story revealed his findings that about 80% of imported chilli products are contaminated with higher than approved levels of aflatoxin, believed to be a potent liver carcinogen.

The story was picked up by national media, and has received considerable exposure. The Adelaidean office has received many enquiries from journalists and concerned members of the public. So has the Australian and New Zealand Food Authority (ANZFA), which has announced that it would conduct a survey into the risks posed to those who eat imported chilli products.

The Adelaidean sought further comment from Dr Klieber about the risks of consuming imported chilli products.

"I would say that people should not stop eating chillies, " said Dr Klieber. "The aim was really to get the industry to start monitoring for contamination and to correct problems, as they are legally bound to. This reduces the overall load of aflatoxins that we may be exposed to, and that can only be healthy, especially since we as a nation are eating more chillies and other spices," he said.

ANZFA has calculated that the likely exposure to aflatoxins in those people who eat a lot of chillies is about 80% of that expected from people consuming peanuts containing the maximum permissible level of 15 micrograms per kilogram (mg/kg). They conclude that dietary exposure to aflatoxins from chillis, while significant, is not as high as that from peanuts.

Dr Klieber agrees, but puts it another way. "At 80 percent, the impact of spices seems to be nearly as important as the impact of peanuts," said Dr Klieber. "Therefore, if they are monitoring peanuts, they should also be monitoring spices, " he said.

ANZFA has since released a statement clarifying the nature and source of aflatoxins in food, and explaining that the Food Standards Code limits its levels in nuts to 15 mg/kg and in other foods to 5 mg/kg.

ANZFA concludes that, on the basis of the known toxicity of these substances and the level of consumption of chillies in Australia, the levels are not considered to pose a significant health risk.

This concurs broadly with Dr Klieber's original findings, which stated that significant consumption of chilli and paprika spice could be in the order of 2-5 grams per day. In the worst measured case of contaminated product in Dr Klieber's study, this would translate to 0.5 mg of aflatoxin consumed per day.

Both Dr Klieber and ANZFA recognise the need for vigilance. ANZFA has now asked the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service to increase the monitoring and testing of imported chilli-based foods, including other spice products which may be susceptible to aflatoxin contamination. They have also alerted all State and Territory jurisdictions about the matter.

Dr Klieber had prepared an extensive report early this year for the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation, which funded his research, and a detailed fact sheet on the reduction of Aflatoxin Contamination Risk of Chilli and Paprika Products.

Dr Klieber's fact sheet is available free of charge from the Media unit, Adelaide University, SA 5005 or in electronic form from

Photos at: /pr/media/photos/2000/

Contacts: ANZFA's information officer can be reached at (02) 6271 2241 or Dr Andreas Klieber: ph 618 8303 6653.


Contact Details

Dr Andreas Klieber
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 6653

Mr David Ellis
Deputy Director, Media and Corporate Relations
External Relations
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 5414
Mobile: +61 (0)421 612 762