Food contaminated by furan: what are the risks?
Furan is formed during the cooking of food and is recognized as a possibly carcinogenic by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Coffee and ready-to-eat baby food contain the highest concentrations as they are prepared in closed environments. While this certainly gives cause for concern, the work of researchers at the University of Liege shows that the risks for the Belgian population are limited.
Coffee and small jars of baby food are the main culprits with regard to levels of furan content.
No regulation has already been established for furan, another contaminant linked to food transformation. Although classified as a probable carcinogenic substance by the IARC, the authorities are awaiting the results of supplementary scientific tests in order to establish levels of the chemical that should not be exceeded in foodstuffs. The first studies on furan date back to 2004-2005 and researchers at Ulg have been studying the chemical since 2008. In his doctoral thesis (1), financed by the Federal Public Health Service, the FPS Public Health, Food Chain Safety and Environment, Georges Scholl was asked with determining the level of contamination of foodstuffs in Belgium and the level of furan to which the adults, children and babies of our country are exposed.
Furan is a small organic molecule (C4H4O) formed during heat treatment as cooking or sterilization process of food. It is a very volatile molecule that is formed in the presence of many precursors such as amino acids, sugars, lipid oxidation of unsaturated fatty acids. It is found in pre-packed foods that have undergone heat treatment, like the contents of some food cans or glass jars but also vacuum-packed foods that are ready to eat.
(1) Belgian population exposed to furan: from analytical developments to risk assessment, Georges Scholl, doctoral thesis, 2013.