U.S. probing safety of chemical in some heated foods

May 11, 2004 in Nutrition Topics in the News

U.S. probing safety of chemical in some heated foods

U.S. scientists are studying whether a chemical found in certain canned, jarred and other foods may cause cancer in people, officials said last week.

The chemical, called furan, is produced at low levels in some foods when they are heated, the US Food and Drug Administration said. Some animal data suggests that high levels of furan exposure might have a carcinogenic effect, but its true effects in humans - especially at such very low levels - are not known.

FDA scientists tested a range of foods including canned fruits and vegetables, jarred baby foods, spaghetti sauce and coffee. Furan levels varied widely.

The FDA's preliminary estimate of consumer exposure is well below the level that would be expected to cause harmful effects, said the director of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. The agency has scheduled a June 8 meeting to gather input from a panel of outside experts on what types of data should be collected to assess the possible impact of furan on people.

Until more is known, the FDA does not advise consumers to alter their diet.

The existence of furan in many types of foods has long been known. The results of FDA's research are not a warning to consumers nor are they a finding of risk associated with any particular foods or individual brands.

The FDA also has an ongoing assessment of whether another chemical found in some foods, called acrylamide, may cause cancer. Acrylamide is naturally formed in some starchy foods when they are fried, baked or roasted.

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