The new barrier levels against PAH contamination, in particular benzo(a)pyrene, firm up temporary measures set up while the Commission accumulated more data on this potential contamination problem highlighted by stakeholder groups.
"Contamination with PAHs has been on our agenda for some time. This follows the incidents of contamination in vegetable oils in particular in 2001," commented outgoing EU commissioner for health and consumer protection David Byrne.
"I am happy to see this agreement today, which will ensure the same level of protection of public health across the EU," added the commissioner, set to leave his post in November when the Commission switches to a new team.
Increasingly pinpointed by consumer organisations as a food safety issue in the food chain, PAHs are a group of over 100 different chemicals that are formed during the incomplete burning of coal and oil, or other organic substances like tobacco or charbroiled meat.
Consumers might be exposed to PAHs by eating grilled or charred meats, contaminated cereals, flour, bread, vegetables, fruits, meats as well as processed or pickled foods.
The European food industry has taken on board concerns linked to PAHs and food production with a range of new initiatives to co-ordinate research findings. Scientists in Spain, for example, have compiled an extensive database of harmful compounds formed during food preservation and cooking.
Led by Paula Jakszyn at the University of Barcelona, the researchers set out to develop a food composition database of nitrates, nitrites, nitrosamines, heterocyclic amines (HA), and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) in foods.
"An accurate assessment of dietary intake of such compounds is difficult, mainly because they are not naturally present in foods, and they are not included in standard food composition tables," said the researchers, reporting their findings in the August 2004 issue of the US Journal of Nutrition, (134:2011-2014, 2004).
Under the workings of Brussels now the Commission proposal has the support of the expert group, made up of representatives from the EU member states, the Commission proposal will now have to be formally adopted by the European Commission in the near future.