European food body investigates harmful furan

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Europe's food watchdog calls on the €600 billion food and drink
industry to find out more about the presence of a potentially
harmful carcinogen - furan - in foods after scientists in the US
identify low levels in cooked 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. Occasionally reported to be found in foods, in May​ this year scientists at the US Food and Drug Administration discovered that furan forms in some foods more commonly than previously thought.

Their discovery has sparked the European Food Safety Authority 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.

"By gathering as much information as possible, the CONTAM panel would like to obtain a more informed view of the situation. After having collected information from all sources available, the working group will draft a report summarising the available data and identifying gaps and research needs,"​ said EFSA in a statement this week.

An integral element to their research is data provided by the European food and drink industry through the industry's medium, the CIAA.

In a letter to the group last month, EFSA said "it would appreciate if the CIAA could …provide EFSA with any data they have on levels of furan in various foods and food products."

Without providing any specific details on current investigations, a spokesperson for the CIAA told that a round-up of the data could be expected by the end of September.

And EFSA added it was not looking for information on specific brands, but that it would be "quite happy" with generic descriptions, such as instant or ground coffee.

"Furthermore, it would be desirable to indicate which analytical method was used to determine the levels of furan in foods,"​ said the Brussels-based body that said it would work closely with the FDA, Health Canada and other authorities on this issue.

The food industry and consumers can only expect to hear any feedback - and further action - on the EFSA furan data collection once the full findings have been collated and after a discussion with the advisory forum.

So far, FDA has focused on testing canned or jarred foods, because these foods are heated in sealed containers. Furan​ has been found in such canned or jarred foods as soups, sauces, beans, pasta meals, and baby foods.

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