Citrinin is a nephrotoxic fungal metabolite that has been demonstrated to be mutagenic in hepatocytes. It can be produced by several fungal species that belong mainly to the genus Penicillium and has been isolated from many feeds and human foods. Cheese is a very sensitive product because it can be naturally contaminated by citrinin-producing molds. The purpose of this study was to determine whether citrinin can be produced in cheeses and whether it is stable in these products. Both toxigenic strains of Penicillium citrinum and Penicillium expansum used were able to produce citrinin in cheese at 20°C, but not at 4°C. Up to 600 mg of citrinin per kg of cheese was obtained after 10 days of incubation. Interestingly, fresh goat cheese appeared to be a more favorable substrate for toxigenesis than did yeast extract–sucrose medium. Although contamination was mainly superficial, 33% of the toxin remained in cheese after trimming. Moreover, citrinin appeared to be very stable in some of the tested cheeses (goat cheese, Saint Marcellin, Soignon). For all cheeses tested, more than 50% of the initial content of citrinin was still present after 8 days of storage. Taken together, these results suggest that the contamination of cheeses by wild strains of Penicillium must be avoided.

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