Health Effects of Low Furan Levels in Foods Examined

WASHINGTON, DC, May 14, 2004 (ENS) - The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced that it will embark on a thorough scientific assessment of the health significance of very low levels of furan - a chemical that is produced through the heating process - in certain foods.

The FDA is soliciting information on the best available and most-up-to-date science on furan including human exposure, why furan forms in certain foods, and the effect of furan on humans at the low levels found in food.

The agency is holding the June 8, 2004, Food Advisory Committee meeting to seek the committee's expert input on the data necessary to fully assess the risk posed by furan.

Furan is a colorless, volatile liquid used in some segments of the manufacturing industry. The presence of furan is a potential concern because, based on animal tests, furan is listed in the Department of Health and Human Services Report on Carcinogens and is considered possibly carcinogenic to humans by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

Furan is the parent compound of a class of derivative compounds collectively known as "furans.'' These compounds are found in heat-treated foods, including coffee, canned meat, baked bread, cooked chicken, sodium caseinate, hazelnuts, soy protein isolate, hydrolyzed soy protein, rapeseed protein, fish protein concentrate, and caramel.

Some animal data suggests that high levels of furan exposure might have a carcinogenic effect in humans, but its true effects in humans - especially at very low levels - are not known.

A new method developed by FDA scientists has revealed that very low levels of furan are found in a wider range of foods than previously suspected. FDA scientists discovered that furan forms in a variety of foods that undergo heat treatment, including certain canned and jarred foods.

The FDA tested a variety of foods and the results ranged from non-detectable levels in some foods to approximately 100 parts per billion in other foods.

"FDA will continue to thoroughly evaluate its preliminary data and conduct additional studies to better determine the potential risk. Until more is known, FDA does not advise consumers to alter their diet," said Dr. Lester Crawford, acting FDA commissioner.

"We need to learn more about whether furan, particularly at these very low levels, poses any significant problem to human health. It's important to stress that FDA's preliminary estimate of consumer exposure is well below the level that would be expected to cause harmful effects," said Dr. Robert Brackett, director of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

After the advisory committee meeting, and after evaluating all the available data, FDA will decide on the appropriate next steps, which may include an expanded food survey, studies to address how furan forms in foods, potential strategies to reduce furan levels, and toxicology studies to address mechanisms of toxicity and dose response.

The new data and the method used to measure the furan levels, and questions and answers on the occurrence of furan in foods, are posted on FDA's Web site at: http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~lrd/pestadd.asp#furan.