Calls for more data on harmful furan in foods

Related tags Coffee Food

European panel of scientists concludes more data is needed before
reaching a firm risk assessment of consumer exposure to the harmful
furan chemical in food.

Furan, a colourless, volatile liquid used in some chemical manufacturing industries, causes cancer in animals in studies where animals are exposed to high doses.

Occasionally reported to be found in foods, in May 2004 scientists at the US Food and Drug Administration discovered that furan forms in some foods more commonly than previously thought.

Their discovery sparked the European Food Safety Authority to set up a panel of science experts (CONTAM). The scientists were charged with finding out more about the chemical they suspect forms in food during traditional heat treatment techniques, such as cooking, jarring, and canning.

Publishing their limited findings​ this week, the group concluded that any reliable risk assessment would need to be underpinned by further data on toxicity and exposures.

"The number of samples and the variety of food products were far too limited and considerably more data on a full range of food items are needed to draw any conclusion,"​ said the group in a statement.

They stressed that the furan levels reported in food are not an indicator of actual furan intake via food 'nor should these be interpreted as suggesting possible risk associated with eating certain foods'.

"For example initial data has shown that ten minutes after brewing coffee a strong reduction of the furan levels are observed in this beverage as a result of its high volatility."

At the request of EFSA, Europe's €600 billion food and drink industry supplied data through the industry's medium, the CIAA. The food agency said 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.

Announcing the research last year the Brussels-based body said it would work closely with the FDA, Health Canada and other authorities on this issue.

Furan has been found in such canned or jarred foods as soups, sauces, beans, pasta meals, and baby foods. Fresh vegetables do not contain furan.

So far CONTAM has found 273 analyses of baby foods which show levels of furan from not detectable to 112 µg/kg.

Assuming an exclusive intake of commercial baby food in glass jars, corresponding to 234 g food per day, this would lead to exposures of 0.2 - 26 µg furan per day.

According to the report, furan can easily pass through biological membranes and is readily absorbed from the lungs or intestines. It is rapidly metabolised by P-450 enzymes and cis-2-butene-1,4-dial has been identified as a key metabolite.

"However, the amounts of furan reaching body tissues are likely to be limited by the fact that the liver is very efficient at eliminating furan from the blood stream,"​ says the CONTAM panel.

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