Scientific Opinion on nitrofurans and their metabolites in food

nitrofurans, nitrofuran marker metabolites, semicarbazide, food, reference point for action, non-allowed pharmacologically active substance, risk assessment
First published in the EFSA Journal
26 juin 2015
5 juin 2015
Scientific Opinion


Nitrofurans are antimicrobial agents not authorised for use in food-producing animals in the European Union. Nitrofurans are rapidly metabolised, occurring in animal tissues as protein-bound metabolites. The European Commission requested EFSA to provide a scientific opinion on the risks to human health related to the presence of nitrofurans in food and whether a reference point for action (RPA) of 1.0 µg/kg for the marker metabolites is adequate to protect public health. Data on occurrence of nitrofuran marker metabolites in food were extracted from the national residue monitoring plan results and from the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF). The CONTAM Panel concluded that these data were too limited to carry out a reliable human dietary exposure assessment. Instead, human dietary exposure was calculated for a scenario in which a single nitrofuran marker metabolite is present at 1.0 µg/kg in foods of animal origin, excluding milk and dairy products. The mean chronic dietary exposure for this worst-case scenario would range from 3.3 to 8.0 and 1.9 to 4.3 ng/kg b.w. per day for toddlers and adults, respectively. Nitrofurans and their marker metabolites, generally, are genotoxic and carcinogenic and, also, have non-neoplastic effects in animals. Margins of exposure (MOEs) were calculated at 2.0 × 105 or greater for carcinogenicity and at 2.5 × 103 or greater for non-neoplastic effects. The CONTAM Panel concluded that it is unlikely that exposure to food contaminated with nitrofuran marker metabolites at or below 1.0 µg/kg is a health concern. A scenario in which foods are considered to be contaminated with semicarbazide, from use of carrageenan as a food additive, at 1 µg/kg was used to assess whether it is appropriate to apply the RPA to foods of non-animal origin; MOEs of greater than 104 calculated for non-neoplastic effects do not indicate a health concern.

Panel members at the time of adoption

Diane Benford, Sandra Ceccatelli, Bruce Cottrill, Michael DiNovi, Eugenia Dogliotti, Lutz Edler, Peter Farmer, Peter Fürst, Laurentius (Ron) Hoogenboom, Helle Katrine Knutsen, Anne-Katrine Lundebye, Manfred Metzler, Antonio Mutti (from 6 October 2014), Carlo Stefano Nebbia, Michael O’Keeffe, Annette Petersen (from 6 October 2014), Ivonne Rietjens (until 2 May 2014), Dieter Schrenk, Vittorio Silano (until 15 July 2014), Hendrik van Loveren, Christiane Vleminckx and Pieter Wester.
Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain
contam [at]
EFSA Journal 2015;13(6):4140
Question Number
On request from
European Commission