The importance of determining the levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in meat and fish and meat products

Cold season started and our meals are becoming richer in meat-based dishes. The culinary feast will reach its peak with the winter holidays where the traditional dishes like “sarmalute”, sausages and bacon slightly smoked for an extra taste will be present on the Romanians' tables.

How much do we know about smoking and its effects on health?

PAH is formed during food processing, such as drying, frying, roasting and smoking. For non-smokers, diet appears to be the main source of PAH exposure.

Smoking food is one of the oldest methods of preservation and is still widely used. However, smoking is currently used primarily to obtain the desired color, flavor, and appearance in smoked foods, rather than for preservation purposes.

Traditional smoking is generally done by using wood smoke. Smoke is defined as the result of thermal pyrolysis of wood when access to oxygen is limited. PAHs and other chemical compounds occur in the smoke particles, which can migrate into the smoked food. Wood smoke contains a combination of antioxidant and antimicrobial chemicals (eg phenols, carboxylic acids, aldehydes and acetic acids), but also some harmful compounds such as PAH.

PAHs are potential health hazards associated with smoked foods, in which they usually occur as a complex mixture.

Smoking with direct and indirect techniques is widely used in the processing of meat and fish products. For direct smoking, the smoke is generated by an open fire in the same room as the smoked product, while in the case of indirect smoking, the smoke is generated in an external room separate from food, and the smoke is led to the product from the smoke generator. external smoke. Along with the smoking technique, the type of process (grill, frying, smoking and drying), the distance between the food and the smoke source, the process time and the temperature have an impact on the levels formed by PAHs.

PAHs - environmental contaminants

PAHs are formed during the incomplete combustion of organic matter and are widely distributed in the environment through the air. Industry, traffic, smoking, forest fires and volcanic eruptions generate PAHs and therefore people are exposed mainly by inhalation, skin contact and ingestion.

What are PAHs and how do they affect us?

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) consist of a versatile group of organic compounds that have at least two or more aromatic rings joined together.

They are fat-soluble and chemically stable compounds that are classified as human carcinogens. Several metabolic pathways can lead to reactive intermediates that induce mutagenic or carcinogenic processes of PAH. The carcinogenic capacity varies between them, despite similar structural properties.

Those with four to six condensed rings, such as benzo [a] pyrene (BaP), are effective carcinogens belonging to group 1 carcinogens according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). In addition, PAHs have teratogenic, haematological and immunotoxic effects, and their food concentrations should therefore be as reasonably low as possible (ALARA principle).

Regulation (EC) no. 1881/2006, supplemented by Commission Regulation 835/2011 specifies the maximum levels (CN) of PAHs in different foods. In 2008, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) concluded that BaP alone is not an appropriate indicator for the occurrence and toxicity of PAHs in foods. Therefore, additional CNs for the sum of four PAHs (PAH4: BaP, benz [a] anthracene (BaA), crisen (CHR) and benzo [b] fluoranthene (BbFA)) were established in Commission Regulation (EU) No 182/2011. 835/2011.

NM for smoked meat and fish products smoked between 1.9.2012 - 31.8.2014 are 5 µg · kg - 1 for BaP and 30µg · kg - 1 for the amount of HAP4.

The applicable NMs from 1.9.2014 for smoked meat and fish products are 2 µg · kg - 1 for BaP and 12 µg · kg - 1 for the amount of HAP4. However, in some Member States, the lower levels set from 1.9.2014 could not be realistically reached for traditionally smoked products. Therefore, Regulation (EU) no. 1327/2014 of the Commission, amending Regulation (EC) no. Regulation (EEC) No 1881/2006 was established for three years, allowing certain Member States to produce and consume traditionally smoked meat and meat products, as well as fish and fish products, on their territory, if it complies with a PAH of 5, 0 µg · kg - 1 for BaP and 30.0 µg · kg - 1 for the amount of HAP4.

Particular attention in this context was paid both to the determination of PAH levels through specific tests and to the investigation of the effect of smoking parameters on PAH4 levels in order to develop science-based guidelines for a safe smoking procedure. Aimed mainly at small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), the guidelines will strengthen expertise and thus prevent and reduce PAH contamination of fish and traditionally smoked meat products.

Data on smoked fish and smoked meat have also shown that lower maximum levels can be reached. However, in some cases it may be necessary to change the current smoking technology. In the case of such studies, it was found, for example, that smoked sprat and canned smoked sprat have higher PAH levels than other smoked fish.

In the past, a maximum level was set for benzo (a) pyrene in 'fish fillet, excluding smoked fish' as ​​an indicator of possible environmental pollution. However, PAHs have been shown to be rapidly metabolised in fresh fish and do not accumulate in fillet muscle and therefore it is no longer justified to maintain a maximum level for PAHs in fresh fish.

High levels of PAH have been found in some types of heat-treated meat and heat-treated meat products sold to final consumers. These levels can be avoided if appropriate treatment conditions are applied and appropriate equipment is used. It is therefore necessary to determine the maximum levels for PAHs in meat and meat products which have undergone a heat treatment process likely to generate PAHs.

With over 17 years of experience on the Romanian market, WESSLING Romania offers analyzes for determining PAH. From the portfolio of services, we can also list: analyzes for environmental protection, environmental consulting, physico-chemical and microbiological analyzes for food and feed.

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