It Pays to Know Your Chemistry
A Furan That Has Nothing to Do with Dioxin

May, 2004

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 effects.

For more information on furan, see the FDA Questions and Answers on the Occurrence of Furan in Food at


         Furan Polychlorinated Dibenzofuran


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