Consumer exposure to furan and methylfurans in food could lead to possible long-term liver damage. The most exposed group of people are infants, mainly through consumption of ready-to-eat jarred or canned foods. Exposure in other population groups is mainly from consumption of grain-based foods and coffee, depending on age and consumer habits.
Furan and the related compounds 2-methylfurans and 3-methyl-furans are chemical contaminants that naturally form during heated food processing, including cooking. These substances have always been present in cooked or heated foods.
Potential health risks linked to furan
EFSA carried out this assessment following its monitoring of furan levels in food and assessing consumer exposure. Dr Helle Knutsen, Chair of the expert Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain, said: “Based on animal studies we concluded that liver damage and liver cancer are the most critical health effects.”
Dr Knutsen added: “How furan might cause cancer in animals is not fully understood. Since the panel could not rule out that this may be due to a direct interaction with DNA, we were not able to set a safe level – the tolerable daily intake. Instead we calculated a ‘margin of exposure’.
“As did the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives [JECFA], we concluded that the level of exposure to furan in food indicates a human health concern.”
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