EFSA calls for data on furan food contamination

By Anthony Fletcher

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Nutrition

EFSA has invited the food industry to submit data on furan
contamination in food and beverages from 1 January.

The call follows a recent scientific report that reviewed currently available data on methods of analysis, occurrence, formation, and exposure toxicity.

From the presently available data it seems that there is a relatively small difference between possible human exposures and doses in experimental animals that produce carcinogenic effects.

However, the current limited availability of occurrence data in food does not allow a sound dietary exposure assessment, and a request for more information on the occurrence of furan in foods has thus been issued.

The ultimate aim is to establish a database on furan, which has been identified in a number of foods that undergo heat treatment such as canned and jarred foods. Furan, a colourless, volatile liquid used in some chemical manufacturing industries, causes cancer in animals in studies where animals are exposed to furan at high doses.

The furan database will be set up to gain more data on actual levels on furan found in food in order to allow a more sound dietary exposure assessment for risk assessment purposes.

In particular the database will aim to provide additional information in the following areas: broad coverage of different food categories including beverages, data on variability within and between brands, and information on freshly prepared foods.

Some recent advancements in better understanding furan have been made. Canadian researchers at McGill University for example claimed last year that they can now explain the presence of this chemical in a wide range of food products.

Their study showed how food-based amino acids and sugars break down when heated to produce furan. It also identified other food components, such as vitamin C and polyunsaturated fatty acids, which may produce furan as an unwanted by-product of cooking, bottling or canning food products.

But, the scientists cautioned that levels identified by both the US and Canadian agencies were well below what is considered dangerous.'

The FDA furan discovery in 2004 prompted the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to set up a panel of science experts charged with finding out more the chemical that they suspect forms in food during traditional heat treatment techniques, such as cooking, jarring, and canning.

And in it's meeting on 14 December 2006, the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health endorsed the Commission proposal for a recommendation on the monitoring of the presence of furan in foodstuffs. EFSA said that it would ensure that the data gathered would be handled confidentially.

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