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Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon (PAH) Testing

PAHs, polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon, PCBs, chlorinated dioxins, furans, congeners, dioxins, testing, analytical services

For decades we have been aware of the presence of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in food stuffs, and legislation has changed the regulatory limits regarding the levels of PAHs several times, in order to keep up with the constant stream of evidence about how they affect us and the environment, what levels are safe and where levels might get too high.

PAHs are polycyclic, aromatic hydrocarbons (containing only carbon and hydrogen), found naturally in some instances, including in some foods, but also produced by incomplete combustion of carbon-based fuels like petroleum or wood. They are of interest to you and me because of their potentially adverse effects on consumers' health; as these compounds are classed as carcinogens and potentially can cause breathing problems in humans. Limits for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) have been introduced for banana chips, dried herbs and spices and certain types of supplement. These are set out in Commission Regulation 2015/1933 and came into force on 1 April 2016 (limits do not apply to products placed on the market before this date). The limits for spices do not apply to smoked dried capsicum species.

PAH limits for supplements had been under discussion since 2006, when the first PAH limits in food were introduced, because high levels had already been reported in some products, mainly botanical and algal. Dried herbs and spices were later included for consideration as there is some product overlap with supplements. In most cases, poor drying practices are thought to be the reason for PAH contamination, although other sources are not ruled out.

banana chips, pah, regulations

How are PAHs made?

PAHs are formed when organic material containing carbon is burned can be naturally occuring or man-made. Because of this, smoked foods, such as smoked meat or fish, can have potentially higher than desired levels of PAHs in them. Anything cooked with a very high heat or charred can also contain these compounds, so even your char-grilled vegetables or fried steak is included. Some foods are known to contain levels that exceed current legislation of these compounds. Cocoa fibre is an example listed in the new regulations which is commonly used as an ingredient in low calorie, high fibre foods. Banana chips get high levels of PAHs from being fried in coconut oil which contains these compounds, and these are also listed. Also listed are food supplements derived from botanical extracts, dried herbs and spices, and propolis, royal jelly and spirulina. Food stuffs already included in the maximum level limits include vegetable oils, molluscs, chocolate, smoked meats & fish as well as infant baby formula.

sausages, pah, regulations

Our Services

Organic Contaminants

Target LOQ


Determination Step

PAHs 0.02-0.2 µg/kg GC-MS

We are UKAS Accredited for Dioxins/Furans, PCBs, PAHs, Brominated Dioxins and Brominated Flame Retardants

Key Capabilities

  • Fera is the National Reference Laboratory for Dioxins/Furans, PCBs and PAHs in food and feed
  • UKAS Accredited for Dioxins/Furans, PCBs, PAHs, Brominated Dioxins and Brominated Flame Retardants
  • Ability to work to the lowest Limits of Detection (LODs) required for specific foodstuffs e.g. infant formula/food
  • Competitive turnaround and pricing


If you have questions about PAH testing, legislation, or the regulatory environment; sometimes it requires another experienced person or team to help pull things together and move them ahead. Fera's consultancy service is made up of senior scientists who have broad and deep experience in the food industry that we can bring to bear on your research project which goes beyond analysis and scientific expertise.

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To speak with us about this service, or for any other services, please contact our experts on:

+44 (0)300 100 0323 or contact us here.

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T: +44 (0)300 100 0323

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  • Extensive scope of UKAS (ISO17025) accredited tests
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  • Extensive range of experts & multiplex testing where possible