Toxicity and carcinogenicity of furan in human diet
Furan is formed during commercial or domestic thermal treatment of food. The initial surveys of furan concentrations in heat-treated foods, published by European and US authorities, revealed the presence of relatively high furan levels in coffee, sauces, and soups. Importantly, furan is consistently found in commercial ready-to-eat baby foods. Furan induces hepatocellular tumors in rats and mice and bile duct tumors in rats with a high incidence. Epidemiological studies are not available. It is assumed that cis-2-butene-1,4-dial, the reactive metabolite of furan, is the causative agent leading to toxicity and carcinogenicity. Based on this data, furan is classified as a possible human carcinogen. The initial exposure estimates revealed a relatively small margin (~2,000) between human exposure and those furan doses, which induce liver tumors in experimental animals. As this may give rise for concern, in this review, the currently available toxicological and mechanistic data of furan are summarized and discussed with regard to its applicability in assessing the risk of furan in human diet.