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;
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.
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.
Importing food containing contaminants - All products imported into the UK must comply with European Union (EU) law on contaminants
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.
Whilst most standard methods have been produced for environmental matrices such as sediment or water, some are available for food:
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 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)].