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updated 5/10/2004 4:51:30 PM ET 2004-05-10T20:51:30

The FDA has announced that 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.

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The FDA is convening an advisory committee meeting on June 8 to evaluate available data on furan.

Some animal studies suggest that high levels of furan exposure might have a cancer-causing effect, but its true effects in humans -- especially at such very low levels -- are not known.

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. The FDA tested a variety of foods, and the results ranged from non-detectable levels in some foods to approximately 100 parts per billion in other foods.

No warnings to consumers yet
"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," says Lester M. Crawford, DVM, Ph.D., the 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," says Robert Brackett, Ph.D., director of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

The FDA is soliciting information on the best available and most-up-to-date science on furan including human exposure, why furan forms in certain foods, and the effect of furan on humans at the low levels found in food.

The FDA is holding the June 8, 2004, Food Advisory Committee meeting to seek the committee's expert input on the data necessary to fully assess the risk posed by furan.

The FDA has compiled a long list of foods and how much furan they contain. The FDA says consumers should not view the furan levels as an indicator of furan exposure or as the "risk" of eating certain foods.

Examples of food products that have been listed as containing higher amounts of furan include:

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