What is benzopyrene?

Benzopyrene (BAP) is one of the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). PAHs can be generated by incomplete combustion of fuel and organic substances. PAHs are present in the environment as pollutants and hence, they can be found in air, soil and water.

Dry heat cooking methods such as roasting and grilling generate PAHs. High fat and high protein food generate more PAHs upon pyrolysis, whereas charred food and over-fried food have an even higher level of PAHs.


Routes of exposure

PAHs are ubiquitous in the environment. The main route of exposure to PAHs is food, especially roasted and grilled foods. Besides, PAHs can enter the body through inhalation of pollutants in the environment and dermal contact. Smokers are exposed to PAHs via the cigarette smoking process.


Impact on human health

l   PAHs are either excreted or form active metabolites after undergoing the human metabolic process. The active metabolites are considered to be related to the potential carcinogenicity of PAHs. Among all PAHs, BAP is classified as Group 1 “Carcinogenic to Human” substance by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) of the World Health Organization (WHO);

l   According to the assessment conducted by the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), effect of dietary intake of PAHs on human health are likely to be small under normal circumstances. However, JECFA still recommends that efforts should be made to minimize human exposure to PAHs as far as practicable.


Safety tips to the public

1.         Maintain a balanced diet, eat more fruits and vegetables;

2.         Avoid eating charred food;

3.         Do not overindulge in foods that are cooked by the dry heat cooking methods, eg. barbecued meat;

4.         Cook food thoroughly but do not overcook;

5.         Remove visible fat from meat before barbecuing. Avoid direct contact of food with flame or fat dripping onto the heat source. Consider wrapping food with aluminum foil during grilling or barbecuing.