Fumonisin B1 (FB1) is reportedly the causative agent of several animal mycotoxicoses and has etiologically been linked to human oesophageal and liver cancer in certain areas of South Africa and China. To study a possible relationship between exposure to FB1 and human cancer risk, the current status of FB1 contamination in food samples in Huaian and Fusui, where incidences of oesophageal and liver cancer are amongst the highest in China, was investigated. A total of 259 corn samples were collected from individual households in five villages of different townships in Huaian during December 2001 and December 2002, and in four villages of different townships in Fusui during May 2001 and May 2002. Corn samples were also collected from individual households in two villages in Huantai, an area with low incidences of both cancers. Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISA) and immunoaffinity-HPLC methods were used for FB1 analysis. In corn samples from Huaian, FB1 was detectable in 95.7% (112/117) of the samples, with an average of 2.84 mg kg-1 (range 0.1-25.5 mg kg-1). FB1 was detected in 83.0% (78/94) of the Fusui samples, with an average of 1.27 mg kg-1 (range 0.1-14.9 mg kg-1), and in 83.3% (40/48) of Huantai samples, with an average of 0.65 mg kg-1 ranging from 0.1 to 5.7 mg kg-1. The level of FB1 in corn samples from Huaian was significantly higher than from Huantai (P < 0.001). In addition, 47 of 112 (42.0%) positive Huaian samples had FB1 level greater than 2.0 mg kg-1, which was significantly higher than 10.0% (4/40) of Huantai samples (P < 0.001). Furthermore, variations were found between samples collected in different years and different villages. The high contamination rates of FB1 found in food from these areas, along with previous reports, suggest a possible contributing role of FB1 in human esophageal- and hepato-carcinogenesis.