Furan is a highly volatile, colorless substance naturally present in oils of resinous coniferous woods. It is also produced artificially and used in the chemical industry to manufacture resins and varnishes. It is also present in cigarette smoke. Despite its name, furan does not belong to the group of "furans" (dibenzofurans), a group of substances with dioxin-like properties. It has been known since 1979 that furan also occurs in heated food. The exact formation process is not yet fully understood. It is formed, for example, during the breakdown of vitamin C or during the cleavage of amino acids, sugars, polyunsaturated fatty acids or carotenoids.


Furan in food

Furan is found in heated foods. The latest report from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) shows that roasted coffee beans with an average content of 4,579 µg/kg and roasted coffee powder (2,361 µg/kg) are among the foods that contain the most furan. However, due to the volatility of furan, furan levels are lower in the finished coffee beverage. Significantly lower levels (average levels 20-57 µg/kg) are found in canned vegetables and meat, cereals and cereal products (bread, pasta, breakfast cereals, baked goods, etc.), and in jarred foods for infants.

Health risk

Furan can cause cancer in mice and rats after ingestion of high levels. It was classified as possibly carcinogenic to humans by the IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) in 1995. In 2011, the WHO evaluated furan as a substance that can alter genetic material and is carcinogenic. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published an updated report on furan in food on October 25, 2017. Based on animal studies, EFSA concludes that furan can cause liver damage and liver cancer.

Situation in Austria

Currently, there are no legally defined maximum levels for furan. In 2007, the European Commission published a recommendation on monitoring the presence of furan in food. In Austria, this monitoring program was implemented in the form of priority actions. Between 2007 and 2021, we analyzed numerous food groups for their furan content and submitted the data to the European Food Safety Authority.


Reduction of furan content due to its volatile property:

  • Prepare food in an open container and with constant stirring.
  • Stir jarred food for infants well after heating or after opening and let stand for a short time
  • Prepare food at lower temperatures, as is the recommendation for acrylamide: "Gilding instead of charring".

Specialized information

We have carried out exposure estimates. These have shown that children absorb an average of 0.18 µg/kg bw (body weight) of furan per day and 0.49 µg/kg bw/day at high consumption levels. Cereal products, such as rice cakes or millet balls, and convenience foods contribute the most to children's total intake.

The average total daily intake of furan for adolescents is 0.12 µg/kg bw/day and for high intake is 0.68 µg/kg bw/day. Coffee and cereal products are the main sources of intake in adolescents.

The average intake of furan in adults up to 65 years of age is 0.31 µg/kg bw/day and 0.72 µg/kg bw/day for high consumption. For adults aged 65 to 75 years, the average total daily intake of furan is 0.26 µg/kg bw/day. Individuals in this high-consumption population have an intake of 0.47 µg furan/kg bw/day. Adults over 75 years of age have an average total intake of 0.28 µg/kg bw/day and a high intake of 0.48 µg furan/kg bw/day. In adults, mostly coffee and convenience foods contribute to furan intake. In addition, in adults aged 65 to 75 years, cereal products also play a significant role in the total intake.

Based on the available data, a health risk cannot be ruled out for the Austrian population with regard to the high consumption, with the exception of young people with average consumption.

Aufnahme von Furan über verschiedene Lebensmittelgruppen bei Kindern und Erwachsenen

Last updated: 10.10.2023

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