Updated report on furan in food includes new exposure estimates

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has issued a report with the latest Member State monitoring results of the levels of furan found in food. This is the third report on furan in food published by EFSA since 2009. With the inclusion of 2009 and 2010 findings, the report comprises 17% new data and is the first to include exposure estimates for different populations drawn from data from EFSA’s recently established Comprehensive European Food Consumption Database. The exposure estimates confirm those already published in the scientific literature. In the future, this work will contribute to the body of scientific data required to undertake a comprehensive risk assessment of furan in food.

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

To allow a better estimate of dietary exposure to furan, the European Commission requests that Member States collect data on furan levels in heat-treated commercial food products which are then compiled and analysed by EFSA. Altogether, 19 Member States and Norway have submitted data to the Authority’s Dietary and Chemical Monitoring Unit (DCM). The analytical results for a total of 5,050 food samples collected between 2004 and 2010 show that furan exposure is highest in adults and in toddlers; coffee and jarred baby foods are the major contributors, respectively.

In its latest risk assessment on furan, from February 2010, the joint Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)/World Health Organization (WHO) Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) concluded that “the margin of exposure for furan indicates a human health concern” and agreed to explore possible measures that could reduce consumer exposure.

EFSA recommends that future testing for furan should target different pre-heated products for which there are currently limited data.

Notes to editors

The Comprehensive Food Consumption Database is a source of information on food consumption across the European Union (EU). It contains detailed consumption data for a number of EU countries. The database plays a key role in the evaluation of the risks related to possible hazards in food in the EU and, combined with occurrence levels for these hazards, allows estimates of consumers’ exposure, a fundamental step in EFSA’s risk assessment work.

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