Cookies

Our website uses cookies to give you the best possible online experience. We do not use these to store personal information about you. If you continue, we'll assume you are happy for your web browser to receive all cookies from our website. See our cookie policy for more information on cookies and how to manage them.

Cookie policy Close this window

Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon NRL

Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) refers to a group of several hundred chemically-related environmentally persistent organic compounds of various structures and varied toxicity. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) constitute a large class of organic compounds containing two or more fused aromatic rings made up of carbon and hydrogen atoms. Benzo[a]pyrene (BaP) is commonly used as an indicator species for PAH contamination and most of the available data refer to this compound. PAHs by nature are;

  • Toxic by inhalation, ingestion or skin absorption
  • Carcinogen, mutagen and reproductive toxin
  • Long-term inhalation can cause a decrease in lung function, chest pain and irritation
  • Long-term skin contact can cause dermatitis and warts
  • BaP is thought to probably cause lung and skin cancer in humans

PAHs can be found in most foods, and are usually formed during food preperation such as smoking, drying, roasting, baking, frying or grilling. Vegetables and some marine foods such as mussels and lobster can absorbs PAHs in many different methods, such as through growth in contaminated soil, or absorption within water after an oil spill for example.

Of the many hundreds of PAHs, the most studied is benzo[a]pyrene, which is often used as a marker for PAHs in ambient air and food. New maximum levels for the sum of four substances (PAH4) (benzo(a)pyrene, benz(a)anthracene, benzo(b)fluoranthene and chrysene) were introduced whilst maintaining a separate maximum level for benzo(a)pyrene. This system ensures that PAH levels in food are kept at levels that do not cause health concerns and that the amount of PAH can also be controlled in those samples in which benzo(a)pyrene is not detectable, but where other PAHs are present.

European Legislation

Fera is the UK National Reference Laboratory for PAHs in food and has considerable expertise in the analysis of PAHs.

There will now be legally-binding restrictions on maximum limits for carcinogenic PAHs in food supplements, along with cocoa fibre, banana chips, dried herbs and dried spices. High levels of PAHs have been found in certain food supplements which contain or are derived from botanical ingredients, often associated with poor drying practices.

The European Commision has published the Regulation (EU) No. 2015/1933 to update the previous EU Regulation No. 1881/2006, which comes into effecive from 1 April 2016. This update will have a significant impact across the entire supply chain.

The Contaminants in Food (England) Regulations 2013 make enforcement measures provision for European Commission Regulation (EC) No. 1881/2006, setting maximum levels for certain contaminants in foodstuffs.

Legislation of Note

  • From 1 April 2016 Commission Regulation (EU) No. 2015/1933 of 27 October 2015 amends Regulation (EC) No 1881/2006 as regards maximum levels for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in cocoa fibre, banana chips, food supplements, dried herbs and dried spices.
  • From 1 September 2012 Commission Regulation (EU) No. 835/2011 of 19 August 2011 amends Regulation (EC) No 1881/2006 as regards maximum levels for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in foodstuffs.
  • From 1 September 2012 Commission Regulation (EU) No. 836/2011 of August 19 2011 amends Commission Regulation (EC) No. 333/2007 which prescribes the methods to be used for sampling and analysis for enforcement purposes.
  • Regulation (EC) No. 669/2009 implementing Regulation (EC) No. 882/2004 as regards the increased level of official controls on imports of certain feed and food of non-animal origin was published in July 2009. This EC Regulation will be implemented in England by The Official Feed and Food Control (England) Regulations 2009, which are expected to come into force on 25 January 2010 and, revoke the 2007 Regulations. It stipulates the frequency of checks that are required for some products at the designated point of entry.
  • Commission Regulation (EU) No. 835/2011 of 19 August 2011 applies from 1 September 2012 and amends Commission Regulation (EC) No 1881/2006 as regards maximum levels for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in foodstuffs.
  • Commission Regulation (EU) No. 836/2011 of 19 August 2011 applies from 1 September 2012 and amends Commission Regulation (EC) No. 333/2007 laying down the methods of sampling and analysis for the official control of the levels of lead, cadmium, mercury, inorganic tin, 3-MCPD and benzo(a)pyrene in foodstuffs.
  • Commission Regulation (EC) No. 627/2006 concerns quality criteria for validated analytical methods for sampling, identification and characterisation of primary smoke products.
  • Regulation (EC) No. 2065/2003 sets a limit for benzo[a]pyrene and benz[a]anthracene in these products.
  • EU-RL PAHs - Regulation (EC) No. 776/2006 nominates the Joint Research Centre as the European Union Reference Laboratory (EU-RL) for PAHs and it is established at the JRC Institute for Reference Materials and Measurements (IRMM).

Food Standards Agency (FSA)

Importing food containing contaminants - All products imported into the UK must comply with European Union (EU) law on contaminants

Directorate General Health and Consumers

DG Health and Consumers ensures that food and consumer goods sold in the EU are safe, that the EU's internal market works for the benefit of consumers and that Europe helps protect and improve its citizens' health. Work is in collaboration with other EU Institutions, national governments and agencies, consumer organisations, health interest groups, business groups, scientists, researchers and experts.

DG Health and Consumers Food contaminants - Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH) provides links to general and EU Legislation.

ISO Methods

Whilst most standard methods have been produced for environmental matrices such as sediment or water, some are available for food:

  • ISO/DTR 24054 Animal and vegetable fats and oils - Determination of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH): Method using gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS)
  • ISO 15753:2006 Animal and vegetable fats and oils - Determination of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
  • ISO 15753:2006 describes two methods for the determination of 15 polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in animal and vegetable fats and oils: a general method, and a method specific for coconut oil and short-chain vegetable oils.
  • ISO 15302:2007 Animal and vegetable fats and oils - Determination of benzo[a]pyrene: Reverse-phase high performance liquid chromatography method

These methods are not quantitative for the very volatile compounds such as naphthalene, acenaphthene and fluorene. Due to interferences provided by the matrix itself, palm oil and olive pomace oil cannot be analysed using this method.

Single Laboratory Validation: GC-MS Method

Single-Laboratory Validation of a GC-MS Method for the Determination of 27 Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) in Oils and Fats.

A paper describing a single-laboratory validation study for 27 PAHs in foods developed at Fera has been published in Food Additives and Contaminants. [Martin Rose, Shaun White, Roy Macarthur, Rupert G Petch, Joseph Holland, and Andrew P Damant.Single-Laboratory Validation of a GC-MS Method for the Determination of 27 Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) in Oils and Fats. Food Additives and Contaminants 24, (6) 635-651 (2007)].


Learn More

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.