EFSA Updates on PCBs and Furan in Food

02 Aug 2010 --- EFSA specifies that the reduction of furan formation in food seems to be more challenging compared to other process contaminants, such as acrylamide, since furan formation is closely connected with the taste and smell of foods.

Aug 2 2010 --- The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has published a report on the levels of non dioxin-like polychlorinated biphenyls in food and animal feed. In 2002, the European Commission issued a list of actions to be taken to reduce the presence of dioxins and PCBs in food and feed and recommended that Member States monitor the situation.

The report, which was prepared by EFSA’s Data Collection and Exposure unit (DATEX), is based on a total of 11,214 food and 1,349 feed samples collected from 18 EU Member States, Iceland and Norway between 1999 and 2008. It follows a report on dioxins and dioxin-like PCBs published earlier this year.

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are a widespread class of persistent organic chemicals that accumulate in the environment and in humans. They are associated with a broad spectrum of health effects. Although the production and use of PCBs have been discontinued in most countries since the 1980s, large amounts remain in electrical equipment, plastic products and building materials.

PCBs can be released into the environment and people are exposed to them mainly through food, with the exception of specific cases of accidental or occupational exposure. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified PCBs as probably carcinogenic to humans. EFSA’s Panel on Contaminants in the food chain carried out a risk assessment on the presence of non dioxin-like PCBs in feed and food in 2005.

In the report published, EFSA says that the highest contamination levels were found in several fish and fish products followed by animal products, such as raw milk, dairy products, eggs and egg products. The lowest levels were found in fruit and vegetables. Similarly, the highest levels of contamination in animal feed were found in feed containing fish derived products, such as fish oil.

EFSA recommends continuous random testing of a sufficient number of samples in each food and feed group in order to ensure accurate assessment and monitoring of the presence of PCBs in the food chain.

Meanwhile EFSA has issued a report updating results of monitoring on the levels of furan found in food. In order to allow a better estimate of dietary exposure to furan, the European Commission asks that Member States collect data on furan levels in heat-treated commercial food products. A first report on these findings was published by EFSA in 2009 and the current update brings additional data to the compilation.

Furan is an organic compound formed during heat-treatment which has been shown to be carcinogenic in animal laboratory studies.

Altogether, seventeen Member States and Norway submitted to EFSA’s Data Collection and Exposure unit (DATEX) the analytical results for a total of 4,186 food samples collected between 2004 and 2009. The data show that furan occurs in a variety of heat-treated foods, in particular coffee and canned products, including jarred baby food.

EFSA recommends that future testing for furan should target products on which there are limited data and that tests should also provide a detailed analysis of samples before and after cooking, with a precise indication of cooking time, temperature and handling.

EFSA specifies that the reduction of furan formation in food seems to be more challenging compared to other process contaminants, such as acrylamide, since furan formation is closely connected with the taste and smell of foods. EFSA adds that a comprehensive risk assessment will require more detailed exposure assessment data, as well as better information on the toxicity of furan.

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