Foods & Foodstuffs – Dioxins and PCBs

What are dioxins and PCBs?

Dioxins/furans are a bi-product of incineration processes and some chemical processes.
‘Dioxins’ is a generic name given to 17 specific chlorinated dibenzodioxins and dibenzofurans in which the chlorine atoms present configure in the 2,3,7,8 positions. The most toxic of these being the tetrachlorinated dioxin 2,3,7,8-TCDD. The other sixteen have been given toxic equivalent factors (TEFs) relative to the most toxic, allowing the total effect of exposure to be determined from a single numerical value.

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are purposely man-made compounds which had been manufactured from the early part of the twentieth century to the mid 1980’s, when production was banned. Of the 209 possible PCB congeners, twelve have been assessed to have similar toxic effect as dioxins and have therefore been given TEFs for WHO assessment.

Both of these compounds are persistent, do not biodegrade, and bio-accumulate in fatty tissue, generating several hazardous toxic responses.

The main exposure pathway for humans is through food ingestion (circa 90%). This is particularly the case for fatty foods.


The quantification and assessment of Dioxins and PCBs is regulated within EU Commission Regulation (CR)1259/2011

The Regulatory Analytical requirements from the Commission Regulations are:

  • Dioxin/Furans
  • DL PCBs (12 x Dioxin-Like / WHO 12)
  • NDL PCBs ( 6 x Non Dioxin-Like / ICES 6)


The Regulation also requires specific Quality Control and Performance Criteria:

  • Accreditation to BS EN ISO/IEC 17025/2005
  • Suitable Analytical sensitivity is achieved by Specialist High Resolution GC/MS methods.
  • Robust analytical methodology’s to include method blanks, spikes and reference material analysis.
  • Participation in recognised proficiency testing schemes.
  • Total compliance to EU CR 252/2012 (Foods) – analytical performance.

For more information on SAL’s Dioxin and PCBs services, please contact your local laboratory or contact us online.

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