The US Food and Drug Administration has said it will embark on a thorough scientific assessment of the health significance of very low levels of furan, a chemical that is produced through the heating process, in certain foods.

The FDA is requesting scientific data on the subject ready for an 8 June 2004 meeting of the Food Advisory Committee on furan.

Some animal data suggests that high levels of furan exposure might have a carcinogenic effect in humans, but its true effects in humans, especially at such very low levels, are not known, the FDA said.

A new method developed by FDA scientists has revealed that very low levels of furan are found in a wider range of foods than previously suspected. FDA scientists discovered that furan forms in a variety of foods that undergo heat treatment, including certain canned and jarred foods.

“FDA will continue to thoroughly evaluate its preliminary data and conduct additional studies to better determine the potential risk. Until more is known, FDA does not advise consumers to alter their diet,” said Dr. Lester Crawford, acting FDA commissioner.

“We need to learn more about whether furan, particularly at these very low levels, poses any significant problem to human health. It’s important to stress that FDA’s preliminary estimate of consumer exposure is well below the level that would be expected to cause harmful effects,” said Dr. Robert Brackett, director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

More information on the FDA’s furan research can be found here.