Mycotoxins are toxic secondary metabolites that globally contaminate an estimated 25 % of cereal crops and thus exposure is frequent in many populations. Aflatoxins, fumonisins and deoxynivalenol are amongst those mycotoxins of particular concern from a human health perspective. A number of risks to health are suggested including cancer, growth faltering, immune suppression and neural tube defects; though only the demonstrated role for aflatoxin in the aetiology of liver cancer is widely recognised. The heterogeneous distribution of mycotoxins in food restricts the usefulness of food sampling and intake estimates; instead biomarkers provide better tools for informing epidemiological investigations. Validated exposure biomarkers for aflatoxin (urinary aflatoxin M1, aflatoxin–N7-guaunine, serum aflatoxin–albumin) were established almost 20 years ago and were critical in confirming aflatoxins as potent liver carcinogens. Validation has included demonstration of assay robustness, intake v. biomarker level, and stability of stored samples. More recently, aflatoxin exposure biomarkers are revealing concerns of growth faltering and immune suppression; importantly, they are being used to assess the effectiveness of intervention strategies. For fumonisins and deoxynivalenol these steps of development and validation have significantly advanced in recent years. Such biomarkers should better inform epidemiological studies and thus improve our understanding of their potential risk to human health.