Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are chemical compounds that can result from combustion processes of organic substances or from heat processing of food – some of them are of particular concern for human health. Within the EU four PAHs have to be determined for the assessment of compliance with established maximum levels (Commission Regulation 1881/2006), while the monitoring of another 12 PAHs is recommended.
Human beings are exposed to PAHs via air and drinking water, but mostly by intake of food. Food contamination with PAHs largely arises from production practices, although environmental contamination is also an issue, since they are formed during incomplete combustion processes. Grains and raw products for the production of edible oil (e.g. olives) may be contaminated with PAHs through drying processes whereas food from animal origin is mainly contaminated through processing, e.g. charcoal grilling, roasting, and smoking.
Commission Regulation (EC) No 776/2006 designates the JRC Institute for Reference Materials and Measurements as the European Union Reference Laboratory (EURL) for Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs). The EURL for PAHs co-ordinates activities related to the development and improvement of methods of analysis for the official control of the maximum levels of PAHs and periodically organizes proficiency test to bench-mark the capabilities of the members of the NRL network. Recently the scope of the EURL PAHs has been extended to other process contaminants e. g. acrylamide, monochloropropane-1,2diol (MCPD) and its esters. Maximum levels have not been established for most of these substances. However, the Commission recommends the monitoring in food of the contents of acrylamide, furan, as well as of MCPD esters and glycidly esters (Commission Recommendation 2013/647/EU, Commission Recommendation 2007/196/EC , Commission Recommendation 2014/661/EU).
The primary tasks are:
- to assist laboratories across the EU Member States with the development and validation of analytical methods,
- to organise comparative tests,
- to help harmonise official controls, and
- to help co-ordinate and develop further the analysis of all PAHs.
The following activities are carried out by the EURL-PAHs on a yearly basis:
- Two proficiency testing (PT) for the determination of the four EU marker PAHs (benz[a]anthracene, benzo[a]pyrene, benzo[b]fluoranthene, and chrysene)) or other process contaminants in various food matrices
- One workshop of the network of appointed National Reference Laboratories;
- Providing support to Directorate-General for Health and Consumers on technical matters related to analysis of PAHs and other process contaminants in food; participation in the meetings of National Experts on Environmental and Industrial Contaminants;
- Providing support to standardisation bodies, such as CEN, by participating in the working group of the Technical Committee CEN/TC275/WG13 "Process Contaminants".
Support and visits to NRLs are done on ad-hoc basis upon request.
These activities refer in particular to Commission Regulation (EC) No 1881/2006 in its latest amendment by Commission Regulation (EU) No 2015/1933 setting maximum levels of benzo[a]pyrene (BaP) and the sum of benzo[a]pyrene, benz[a]anthracene, benzo[b]fluoranthene and chrysene in various types of food as well as of 3-MCPD in soy sauce and hydrolised vegetable protein, to Commission Regulation (EC) No 333/2007 as amended by Commission Regulation (EU) No 836/2011 laying down the methods of sampling and analysis for the official control of the levels of BaP in foodstuffs. To achieve these goals, the EURL works in close collaboration with national reference laboratories (NRLs).