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Contamination of food supplements with PAHs


Scientists from the JRC-hosted European Reference Laboratory for PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) tested 94 food supplements including botanical, oil and bee products collected from the European market for the presence of four EU marker PAHs. The monitoring study showed significant variability in PAH levels. The highest values were found in propolis extracts and other bee products, whereas fish edible oil supplements had significantly lower levels.

PAHs are a large group of chemical contaminants produced by natural and anthropogenic processes. Humans are exposed to PAHs through different pathways; with the primary source for non-smokers being food. Generally, the PAH compound, benzo[a]pyrene is used as a marker substance for toxicity. Given the assessment by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) that benzo[a]pyrene is not a suitable marker on its own, the sum of four respectively eight PAHs was selected as the most appropriate indicators. Commission Regulation (EU) No. 835/2011 lays down maximum levels for benzo[a]pyrene and the sum of four specific PAHs for food products containing fats and oils and smoked food. It further stipulates the need to collect more data on the occurrence of PAHs in food supplements.

Consequently, the JRC-Institute for Reference Materials and Measurements performed a comprehensive monitoring study of the four EU marker PAHs in a broad set of food supplements.
The levels for the sum of the four marker PAHs varied between less than 0.25 and more than 700 micrograms per kilogram. The PAH compound with the highest concentration was chrysene. While relatively low concentrations were found in fish oil supplements, those made from bee products were significantly contaminated.

It is necessary to monitor the sum of the priority PAHs in food supplements continuously to ensure consumers' safety.

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Source: European Commission, Joint Research Centre