Showing results for 
Search instead for 
Did you mean: 
Team TFS
Team TFS
polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in grilled meatsThis summer when you plan your next outdoor barbecue think about how Polyaromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) can be hazardous to your health but, wait, PAHs are not just in your grilled and smoked meats but also in our soil and  drinking water!

The Agency of Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) describes PAHs as a group of over 100 different chemicals that occur naturally in fossil fuel products (e.g., coal and oil), and are among the effluents of combustion processes commonly used for heating, incineration, and electric power generation. In addition, PAHs are formed by the incomplete burning of organic substances such as smoked meat.


How do PAHs Affect Your Health?

Several PAHs cause cancer in humans; others are considered to be probable or possible cancer-causing chemicals. In addition, exposure to high PAH concentrations affects the body’s ability to fight disease and infections. Meat cooked at high temperatures, for example grilling, broiling or frying, creates hetrocyclic amines (HCAs) and PAHs, compounds that have been both linked to cancers:

  • HCAs are formed when amino acids and creatine react at high temperatures, causing damage to DNA, which spurs the development of tumor cells.

  • PAHs are formed when fat drips onto hot coal, creating smoke that settles on food.

But, to give you some perspective, here is a quote from Colleen Doyle, the Director of Nutrition and Physical activity for the American Cancer Society, "within the big picture of cancer prevention, there are many greater risks than grilling, if you are 30 pounds overweight for example, that puts you at a much greater risk for developing a number of cancers [than does eating grilled meats]."

An American Institute for Cancer Research article that I recently read describes a few simple steps we can take while grilling to keep our food, healthier and safer for consumption:

  1. Get creative with your choices and think chicken and fish instead of the conventional hamburgers, hotdogs and steak. The less processed the meat the better, and steer away from red meat.

  2. Marinate your meat for at least 30 minutes prior to grilling to reduce the formation of HCAs.

  3. Precook your meat in a microwave, or oven to minimize the time meat spends exposed to direct flames, thus reducing the amount of PAHs you ingest.

  4. Cook at a low heat to minimize charring and formation of HCAs and PAHs.

  5. Add a variety of colorful vegetables to your next outdoor event to add some anti-cancer properties to counter your PAH consumption.


Cancer Research Studies on PAH Consumption

Many researchers around the world are currently investigating the association between meat-cooking methods and cancer risk. Ongoing studies include the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study, the University of Minnesota study, the National Cancer Institute on the link between meat mutagens and prostrate cancer risk, and a study between meat mutagens and breast cancer from Harvard University. Similar research in a European population is being conducted in the European Prospective Investigation focusing on the link between the consumption of heterocyclic aromatic amines (HCAs) from meat and cancer.


Determination of PAHs in Smoked Meat

A European study uses our Accelerated Solvent Extraction (ASE) system (Thermo Scientific Dionex ASE 350 Accelerated Solvent Extraction system) and liquid chromatography for extraction and analysis of four PAHs in smoked meat products as per the European Commission Legislation. The method, described in this journal article, Application of Accelerated Solvent Extraction for Simultaneous Isolation and Pre-cleaning Up Procedu..., (link to abstract), provides a rapid, cost-efficient, low-solvent use alternate to traditional extraction methods such as Soxhlet.

The method meets the linearity, repeatability, precision, recovery, limit of detection (LOD), and limit of quantification (LOQ) criteria set by the European Commission, and can be used as an effective tool for measuring PAH content in smoked meats for quality control purposes.

Another method is described in a study performed by the University of Louisiana (abstract to journal article) which uses the ASE technique to extract 16 PAHs fortified into fish tissue and ground pork followed by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) analysis. This optimized extraction and quantification method is then applied to the determine PAHs in several smoked meat samples.


Monitoring PAHs in Environmental Matrices

In addition to being a concern in food, PAHs are also monitored worldwide in a wide range of environmental matrices, including drinking water, waste water, furnace emissions, soil, and hazardous waste extracts. Many regulatory bodies around the globe regulate the presence of these chemicals in the environment, as for example, the U.S. EPA in this EPA Method 8310 (link to method PDF).

Application Update 313, titled, Accelerated Solvent Extraction GC-MS Analysis and Detection of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons in S..., (downloadable PDF), uses our Accelerated Solvent Extraction system (Thermo Scientific Dionex ASE 350 Accelerated Solvent Extractor system) for the extraction and one of our GC-MS systems (Thermo Scientific ISQ Single Quadrupole GC-MS system) to analyze 16 PAHs from soil.

When using the ASE technique to extract PAHs from soil, the spike recovery rate for the 16 PAHs is between 86.7% and 116.2%, showing that the ASE technique is suitable for extracting PAHs from soil. Pre-processing a sample using ASE is simple, fast, and highly efficient and reduces the amount of solvent required for extraction.


Additional Resources


For more information on other sample preparation applications, read our previous blogs on fat extraction from food using the ASE, and extraction of pesticides from marine samples. Be sure to click on the hyperlinks for more information on other applications developed for extraction of PAHs and PCBs in mussel tissue as well as environmental samples, and other methods for fast quantification of 16 EC priority PAH components.


Do you use the Accelerated Solvent Extraction Technique for your Sample Preparation and analysis? If so, I would like to hear your thoughts and experiences. Remember your analysis is only as good as your sample Preparation!