An estimation of the carcinogenic risk associated with the intake of multiple relevant carcinogens found in meat and charcuterie products

Sci Total Environ. 2015 May 1;514:33-41. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2015.01.108. Epub 2015 Feb 4.


Numerous epidemiological studies have demonstrated a link between excessive meat consumption and the incidence of various cancers, especially colorectal cancer, and it has been suggested that environmental carcinogens present in meat might be related to the increased risk of cancer associated with this food. However, there are no studies evaluating the carcinogenic potential of meat in relation to its content of carcinogens. Our purpose was to emphasize the relevance of environmental carcinogens existing in meat as a determinant of the association between cancer and meat consumption. Because within Europe, Spain shows high consumption of meat and charcuterie, we performed this study focusing on Spanish population. Based on the preferences of consumers we acquired 100 samples of meat and charcuterie that reflect the variety available in the European market. We quantified in these samples the concentration of 33 chemicals with calculated carcinogenic potential (PAHs, organochlorine pesticides, and dioxin-like PCBs). The carcinogenic risk of these contaminants was assessed for each food using a risk ratio based on the current consumption of meat and charcuterie and the maximum tolerable intake of these foods depending on the level of contamination by the carcinogens they contain. Our results indicate that the current consumption of beef, pork, lamb, chicken, and "chorizo", represents a relevant carcinogenic risk for consumers (carcinogenic risk quotient between 1.33 and 13.98). In order to reduce carcinogenic risk, the study population should halve the monthly consumption of these foods, and also not to surpass the number of 5 servings of beef/pork/chicken (considered together).

Keywords: Carcinogenic potential; Charcuterie; Meat; Organochlorine pesticides; PAHs; PCB; POPs.

MeSH terms

  • Carcinogens / analysis*
  • Carcinogens, Environmental / analysis
  • Diet / statistics & numerical data
  • Dioxins / analysis
  • Environmental Exposure / analysis*
  • Environmental Exposure / statistics & numerical data
  • Environmental Pollutants / analysis*
  • Food Contamination / analysis*
  • Food Contamination / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Hydrocarbons, Chlorinated
  • Meat / analysis*
  • Meat / statistics & numerical data
  • Pesticides / analysis
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls
  • Polychlorinated Dibenzodioxins / analysis
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons / analysis
  • Spain


  • Carcinogens
  • Carcinogens, Environmental
  • Dioxins
  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Hydrocarbons, Chlorinated
  • Pesticides
  • Polychlorinated Dibenzodioxins
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls