Finnish children are not at risk from exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons through foods

October 14/2020

The Finnish Food Authority has made an evaluation of the exposure of children to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs. PAHs are carcinogenic compounds formed during combustion. According to the risk evaluation, the exposure of children is at a safe level. Bread turned out to be the main source of PAHs.

Included in the risk evaluation as sources of PAHs are breads, breakfast cereals and mueslis, fats and oils, as well as smoked meat and fish products. According to the results of the risk evaluation, PAH content was greatest in grilled meat, smoked ham, and warm smoked fish.

“Surprisingly, the biggest source of PAHs was bread, as it is eaten much more than smoked or grilled foods. Other significant sources were smoked ham, sausage, and fats and oils”, says Tero Hirvonen, Senior Researcher at the Finnish Food Authority.

The combined exposure from all the sources was low, and consequently PAHs do not pose a health hazard to Finnish children aged 3 to 6.

Cooperation with the University of Helsinki

Food use data for the risk evaluation came from the DAGIS project by the University of Helsinki and Folkhälsan, with children aged 3 to 6 from Southern Finland and the region of Central Ostrobothnia participating.

“Information on the content of foods came from analysis by the Finnish Food Authority itself and scientific literature. The BIKE modelling programme, which was developed in the Finnish Food Authority's Risk Assessment Unit, was used for modelling exposure”, Hirvonen says.

PAHs come from incomplete combustion

PAHs, or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, are formed inside foods during grilling and smoking, for example. They also end up in foods through the environment. PAH content in foods is highest in smoked and grilled meat and fish products. PAHs have been found to cause cancer in laboratory animals. EU legislation sets maximum PAH content for many foods, such as smoked meat and fish products.

Read more in the risk analysis report: Risk assessment of Finnish children’s exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) in foods (pdf) in Finnish, the description in English.

You can find more information on PAHs on the Finnish Food Authority website.

Further information:

Senior Researcher Tero Hirvonen, Risk Assessment Unit, tel. +358 20 772 4029 or +358 40 822 5629,