The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) said there were no safety concerns for 5-hydroxymethylfurfural (5-HMF), which is often produced when carbohydrate-rich foods that may employ caramel or smoke flavours are heated.
“According to the experimental studies presently available it could not be shown that 5-HMF has any relevance for human health with regard to possible carcinogenic and genotoxic effects,” the BfR said.
5-HMF, first detected in the 1950s, was recently broadly OK’d by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which noted levels vary considerably depending on the production process.
In general, however, it said it would be “prudent” to keep by-product levels in caramel colours as low as technically feasible – and further research is recommended into the link between production and formation and nature of their constituents.
The BfR said it had assessed 5-HMF formation in a range of food groups which could be extrapolated more broadly.
“This exposure assessment can be considered in general as representative,” it said.
“It shows that the margin of safety to the maximum dose of 5-HMF derived in some animal studies as not leading to any adverse effects is generally large enough … implying that any health risks for humans cannot be assumed.”
The agency then somewhat contradicted itself by referencing concerns that had earlier been raised about possible cancer links to caramel colour derived 5-HMF, and called for further studies in that area.
It said it was important that, “further toxicological tests are carried out in order to clarify whether 5-HMF or its metabolites could contribute to the development of cancer – especially intestinal cancer – as this was originally interpreted based on earlier studies.”
The full report is available in German here.