PAH Analysis in food supplements, botanicals, spices and herbal powders origin

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are ubiquitously distributed contaminants. They are known to be genotoxic and carcinogenic and, as such, maximum levels have been specified recently for benzo[a]pyrene (BaP) and PAH4 (sum of benzo[a]pyrene, benzo[a]anthracene, benzo[b]fluoranthene and chrysene) in certain foodstuffs.

Contact us

Sources of PAH contamination

The majority of PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) in the environment can be attributed to the (incomplete) combustion of fossil fuels. PAHs bind to dust or soot particles and enter the atmosphere in this way, where they are transported over long distances. Dusts containing PAHs are deposited on the soil and on plants. PAHs dissolve easily in fats and oils and they accumulate in organisms and environmental compartments.

Show more

However, foods may also be contaminated as a result of bad manufacturing practices, inadequate drying processes (when burning wood, coal or straw, for example), or such traditional processes as curing or barbecuing.

Show less

Risk assessment

Benzo[a]pyrene and many other PAHs are classed as being mutagenic, genotoxic and carcinogenic substances. Apart from their genotoxic and carcinogenic properties, PAHs are also known to have reprotoxic, developmentally toxic and neurotoxic properties. Considering the mean level of dietary exposure estimated by EFSA and the estimated values for exposure through drinking water and air compared with PAH4 in each case, the main route of exposure for non-smokers is the consumption of food.

Maximum levels

According to Commission Regulation (EC) No. 1881/2006 (Contaminants Regulation), maximum levels for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) should be minimised to the lowest level achievable by reasonable means (ALARA principle: as low as reasonably achievable) by following good, state-of-the-art manufacturing and drying practices. High PAH levels have been found in such foods as banana chips, food supplements with plant-based ingredients and those containing propolis, royal jelly and spirulina, as well as certain dried herbs and spices, within the framework of PAH monitoring conducted by the EU Member States.

Table 1: Limit values and relevant matrices according to Regulation (EC) No. 396/2005

Section 6: Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
Foodstuffs Maximum levels (µg/kg)
Benzo(a)pyrene, benzo[a]anthracene, benzo[b]fluoranthene and chrysene Benzo(a)pyrene Sum of benzo(a)pyrene, benzo[a]anthracene, benzo[b]fluoranthene and chrysene
Processed cereal-based foods and baby foods for infants and young children 1,0 1,0
Infant formulae and follow-on formulae, including infant milk and follow-on milk  1,0 1,0
Dietary foods for special medical purposes intended specifically for infants  1,0 1,0
Banana chips  2,0 20,0
Food supplements containing botanicals and their preparations 10,0 50,0
Dried herbs 10,0 50,0
Dried spices with the exception of cardamon and smoked Capsicum spp. 10,0 50,0
Powders of food of plant origin for the preparation of beverages with the exception of the products referred to in 6.1.2 and 6.1.11 10,0 50,0


PhytoLab has a highly efficient, validated procedure at its disposal for determination of PAH (benzo[a]pyrene, benzo[a]anthracene, benzo[b]fluoranthene and chrysene) in food supplements, botanicals, spices and other matrices. The levels determined for benzo[a]pyrene and the sum for PAH4 are reported separately in the CoA. Our DAkkS-accredited analytical method is subjected to neutral reviews at regular intervals within the framework of acknowledged interlaboratory proficiency testing schemes. This procedure also enables quantitative analysis of PAH16.

We would be happy to advise you and draw up an offer for quantitative analyses of benzo[a]pyrene and PAH4.


Markersubstanzen für polyzyklische aromatische Kohlenwasserstoffe (PAK) zur Lebensmittelüberwachung (Marker substances for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) for the monitoring of food), BfR Opinion No. 003/2010 of 2 October 2009

Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons in Food. Scientific Opinion of the Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain, (Question N° EFSA-Q-2007-136) Adopted on 9 June 2008, The EFSA Journal (2008) 724, 1-114

Findings of the EFSA Data Collection on Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons in Food, EFSA/DATEX/002 (revision 1), 31 July 2008

Opinion of the Scientific Committee on a request from EFSA related to A Harmonised Approach for Risk Assessment of Substances Which are both Genotoxic and Carcinogenic, (Request No EFSA-Q-2004-020) (ADOPTED ON 18 OCTOBER 2005), The EFSA Journal (2005) 282, 1-31

Reflection paper on Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH) in herbal medicinal products/ traditional herbal medicinal products (EMA/HMPC/300551/2015) of 31 May 2016.

Roszko M, Kamińska M, Szymczyk K, Jędrzejczak R. Dietary risk evaluation for 28 polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in tea preparations made of teas available on the Polish retail market. J Environ Sci Health B. 2017; 53; 1:25-34.

Zhang Y, Tao S. Global atmospheric emission inventory of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) for 2004. Atmospheric Environment 2009; 43:812–819.

Umweltbundesamt. Polyzyklische Aromatische Kohlenwasserstoffe (Federal Environmental Agency. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons). Dessau-Roßlau: Federal Environmental Agency. 2016.

Lawal A. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. A review. Cogent Environ Sci 2017; 3: 1339841.

Committee on Herbal Medicinal Products (HMPC). Assessment report on Ilex paraguariensis St. Hilaire, folium. EMA/HMPC/580545/2008, 6 May 2010.

Commission Regulation (EU) 2020/1255 of 7 September 2020 amending Regulation (EC) No 1881/2006 as regards maximum levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in traditionally smoked meat and smoked meat products and traditionally smoked fish and smoked fishery products and establishing a maximum level of PAHs in powders of food of plant origin used for the preparation of beverages. Official Journal of the European Union L 293 of 18 September 2020