It Pays to Know Your Chemistry
A Furan That Has Nothing to Do with Dioxin
Recent reports on the presence of furan in foods may cause
confusion. The chemical compound furan (C4H4O)
is not the same as the dioxin-like family of furan compounds
(polychlorinated dibenzofurans). Diagrams of the two compounds
below illustrate the difference.
News reports tell us U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
scientists are finding that the chemical compound furan forms
more commonly than previously thought in foods during cooking,
jarring and canning. This furan is not chlorinated.
According to the FDA, the fact that scientists are finding
it more prevalent in foods is likely a result of their use
of increasingly sensitive analytical techniques-capable of
detecting extremely low levels of substances.
Why are two very different compounds both referred to as
"furan(s)?" The reason is that the family of furans
is actually a family of polychlorinated dibenzofurans.
This polysyllabic "mouthful" has been shortened by chemists
and others to simply "furans." In contrast, the name furan
for C4H4O is accurate and not shortened.
While a furan unit is part of the polychlorinated dibenzofuran
structure, these are very different compounds with different
For more information on furan, see the FDA Questions
and Answers on the Occurrence of Furan in Food at http://vm.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/furanqa.html