Fact-Check: Rotten tomatoes (Esa) can cause cancer

By Maria Famakinwa

Claim: A video shared on social media platforms claims that rotten tomatoes (esa) can lead to cancer when consumed.

Verdict: True! Rotten tomatoes contain mycotoxins and can lead to long-term effects such as immune deficiency and cancer.

Full Text

Tomatoes are largely consumed because they are a rich source of vitamins A and C, folic acid as well as antioxidants (alpha-lipoic acid, lycopene, and lutein). Tomato consumption makes up approximately 18% of the average daily consumption of vegetables in Nigerian homes.

Many food vendors in Nigeria and household users such as Iya Muibat and Mrs Funmilola Samuel prefer ‘esa’ because it is cheaper compared to fresh tomatoes.  

A video circulating on TikTok and other social media platforms shared by @olawalesmd claims that consuming rotten tomatoes, popularly called “Esa” can lead to cancer in humans. According to him, “broken tomatoes are easily accessible to flies which deposit germs and eggs inside these vegetables (tomatoes). As the tomatoes break, microorganisms invade them causing them to rot, among the microorganisms are fungi known as mycotoxins which have been linked to cancer”

 According to the post, boiling and frying it does not help remove the fungi completely. The post has 370 likes and 38 comments and was shared on WhatsApp multiple times.

Due to the post going viral and the possible health impacts, The Hope decided to fact-check to set the record straight. 


Mycotoxins are a structurally and functionally diverse group of organic compounds that affect humans and animals. They can affect all organ systems, but individual mycotoxins usually target specific organ systems. Species differences are generally related to the severity of the effect, although in some cases target organs may differ according to species. 

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Using keywords on Google, we found that there are reports of rotten tomatoes containing mycotoxin. Such reports can be found herehere and here.

The National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) has also warned Nigerians against the consumption of rotten tomatoes to forestall cancer.

NAFDAC explains that “once tomatoes become rotten, it will have microorganisms, mostly fungi, and fungi in rotten tomatoes produce mycotoxins, which are deadly and induce cancer, and cause immune deficiency in man and animals. Mycotoxins are deadly, and can cause all sorts of poisoning in the body.”

What Studies Say

A study published in the Comprehensive Reviews In Food Science And Food Safety confirmed that there is a link between mycotoxin exposures and cancer risk. This was also confirmed by other studies such as this and this. A study confirms that fresh tomatoes do not contain mycotoxins.

Expert Opinions

A Clinical Nutritionist at the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research, Yaba, Lagos, Susan Holbrooke, said rotten tomatoes are unsafe for consumption and may damage the liver, impair child development, and also cause miscarriage. Rotten tomatoes contain aflatoxins, which can predispose those who consume them to cancer. Aflatoxins are poisonous substances produced by certain kinds of fungi which are called moulds. They are found naturally all over the world and they can contaminate food crops and pose serious health threats to humans and livestock.

Another nutritionist, Mrs Toyin Aliu at the College of Health Technology, Offa, Kwara, has said that the consumption of rotten tomatoes, popularly known as ‘esa’ or ‘baje’, could cause cancer. Aliu said that maggots-infested tomatoes could cause bacterial poisoning when consumed.

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Aliu said that maggots-infested tomatoes could cause bacterial poisoning when consumed. ”The fungi in rotten tomatoes are sources of potent mycotoxins, which can be detrimental to health.

”Rotten tomatoes can induce cancer because once tomatoes become rotten, they will have micro organisms, mostly fungi. Fungi in rotten tomatoes produce mycotoxins, which are deadly and can induce cancer and can cause immune deficiency in humans. Since tomatoes contain a large amount of fluid, mycotoxins diffuse rapidly in rotten tomatoes, contaminating all parts and making it bad for consumption,” Aliu said. 

Also, another nutritionist, Favour Akinpelu, said that consuming rotten tomatoes may increase the risk of liver cancer, adding that rotten tomatoes truly contain aflatoxins which are indeed damaging to health.

She said boiling and frying do not remove the fungi completely as consumers think.

“Those white things found in rotten tomatoes are called aflatoxins which are indeed harmful and poisonous to humans. The effect of consuming these fungi may not happen immediately, it accumulates in the body and shows up later causing illnesses.

“Some people think boiling and frying remove the fungi completely, but this is false. It is advisable to eat clean and healthy food that serves nutritional values,” she said


The claim that the consumption of rotten tomatoes can cause liver cancer is true. Consuming the mycotoxins found in rotten tomatoes can lead to long-term effects such as immune deficiency and cancer.

Fact-Check: Rotten tomatoes (Esa) can cause cancer

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