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Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons in Food

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) are a class of complex chemicals that are formed and released during incomplete combustion or pyrolysis (burning) of organic matter such as waste or food, during industrial processes and other human activities.

Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons are also formed in natural processes such as carbonisation. Studies on individual PAHs in animals have shown various toxicological effects, such as haematotoxicity (effects on the blood), reproductive and developmental toxicity and immunotoxicity. A number of PAHs have shown carcinogenic effects in experimental animals and it has been concluded that benzo[a]pyrene is carcinogenic to humans.

There is concern therefore, about their formation and presence in food. In food, PAHs may be formed during industrial processing and domestic food preparation, such as barbecuing, smoking, drying, roasting, baking, frying or grilling. Direct fire-drying and heating processes used during the

production of some oils of plant origin and in particular olive pomace oil can result in high levels of PAHs.

This factsheet is intended for food business operators, enforcement officers and other interested persons. It:

  • Summarises the dietary sources and health hazards of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)
  • Suggests methods of sampling and analysis of foods for the presence of PAHs
  • Explains the legal measures in place to minimise the levels of PAHs in food
  • Outlines risk management measures required to control PAHs in food and
  • Lists other sources of further information in a bibliography

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Scientific Reports |