PhotoOatmeal and other cereals containing oats are good for your heart. But what about the rest of you?

Scientists are warning that oat-based products might need closer monitoring for potential mold contamination. They report that some oat-based breakfast cereals in the U.S. contain a mold-related toxin called ochratoxin A (OTA) that's been linked to kidney cancer in animal studies. They say the findings could have implications for consumer health.

Not that OTA is unusual. Researchers Dojin Ryu and Hyun Jung Lee note that OTA is one of the most common toxic products released by molds. Previous studies have found the toxin in samples of pork, dried fruits, wine, coffee and other products.

Scientists don't yet know how the toxin affects human health, but the International Agency for Research on Cancer, which is part of the World Health Organization, classifies it as a possible human carcinogen.

Animals exposed to OTA in experiments developed kidney tumors. Although the U.S. doesn't currently regulate the contaminant, the European Union has set maximum limits for OTA in food.

500 samples

Ryu and Lee wanted to see how U.S. breakfast cereals -- a staple in many Americans' diets -- measured up to that standard.

The researchers tested close to 500 samples of corn-, rice-, wheat- and oat-based breakfast cereals purchased from U.S. stores over two years. They found that in most samples, OTA levels were lower than the European threshold. But concentrations exceeded the EU standard in 8 percent of oat-based breakfast cereal samples.

The researchers conclude that oat production, storage and processing need careful review to better protect consumer health.

Their report was published in the American Chemical Society's Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

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