Mycotoxins are toxic fungal secondary metabolites that frequently contaminate food and feed worldwide, and hence represent a major hazard for food and feed safety. To estimate human exposure arising from contaminated food, so-called biomarker approaches have been developed as a complementary biomonitoring tool besides traditional food analysis. The first methods based on radioimmunoassays and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays as well as on liquid chromatography were developed in the late 1980s and early 1990s for the carcinogenic aflatoxins and in the last two decades further tailor-made methods for some major mycotoxins have been published. Since 2010, there has been a clear trend towards the development and application of multianalyte methods based on liquid chromatography-electrospray ionization tandem mass spectrometry for assessment of mycotoxin exposure made possible by the increased sensitivity and selectivity of modern mass spectrometry instrumentation and sophisticated sample cleanup approaches. With use of these advanced methods, traces of mycotoxins and relevant breakdown and conjugation products can be quantified simultaneously in human urine as so-called biomarkers and can be used to precisely describe the real exposure, toxicokinetics, and bioavailability of the toxins present. In this article, a short overview and comparison of published multibiomarker methods focusing on the determination of mycotoxins and relevant excretion products in human urine is presented. Special attention is paid to the main challenges when analyzing these toxic food contaminants in urine, i.e., very low analyte concentrations, appropriate sample preparation, matrix effects, and a lack of authentic, NMR-confirmed calibrants and reference materials. Finally, the progress in human exposure assessment studies facilitated by these analytical methods is described and an outlook on probable developments and possibilities is presented.
The article is published online in the journal Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry and is free to access.