Food businesses in Europe must take “practical steps” to manage acrylamide within their food safety management systems beginning in April. New European Union legislation describes “practical measures” food businesses must take to mitigate acrylamide formation in a range of foods.

Acrylamide is a chemical that may form in some starchy foods during high-temperature cooking, such as frying, roasting, and baking. Acrylamide forms from an amino acid and sugars that are naturally in food.

The United Kingdom’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) and Food Standards Scotland are working with the British Hospitality Association and other stakeholders to develop straightforward guidance to help catering and food service businesses comply with the new EU rules.

The EU rules will concern food businesses in the United Kingdom from April 2018 until March 29, 2019, when the U.K. is scheduled to break with the EU under last year’s Brexit vote. FSA is scheduled to provide acrylamide guidelines early in 2018.

FSA says it is not possible to eliminate acrylamide from foods, but actions can be taken to try to ensure that acrylamide levels are as low as reasonably achievable. FSA surveillance on acrylamide levels in food products began in 2007.

In 2016, the FSA survey included a total of 274 U.K. retail products that included french fries, bread, cereals, biscuits, coffee, baby food, popcorn, cakes, pastries and chocolate. It analyzed 269 of the products for acrylamide and 120 for the organic compound furan.

The 274 UK retail product samples represented 10 food groups as specified in EU Commission Recommendation No. 2010/307 on the monitoring of acrylamide in food.

Acrylamide analysis was carried out on 269 samples taken from:

  • Group 1 (french fries sold as ready to eat)
  • Group 2 (potato crisps)
  • Group 3 (pre-cooked french fries for home-cooking)
  • Group 4 (soft bread)
  • Group 5 (breakfast cereals)
  • Group 6 (biscuits and crackers)
  • Group 7 (coffee)
  • Group 8 (baby food other than processed cereal-based)
  • Group 9 (processed cereal baby food)
  • Group 10 (others, e.g., popcorn, cakes, pastries and chocolate).

Furan analysis was carried out on 120 samples taken from Groups 5, 6, 7, 8 and 10.

The acrylamide and furan results from the FSA survey were part of long-term surveillance. They were sent to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) for collation and analysis with survey data from other European countries.

Reduced acrylamide levels are achieved by making light golden the target color for certain foods, from fries to toast.

Process contaminants are chemical substances that are produced naturally in food during manufacturing or home-cooking. They are absent in the raw foods or raw materials used to make the food and only occur when components of the fresh foods or substances undergo chemical changes during cooking or other processing.

Acrylamide and furan may be formed at high temperatures during cooking. Both substances have the potential to raise the risk of cancer, which will then increase with regular exposure to higher levels, over a lifetime.

EFSA has concluded that current levels of dietary exposure to acrylamide, furan and its methyl analogs such as 2-methyl furan and 3-methyl furan indicate a potential human health concern.

The agency considers that exposure to acrylamide and furans should be reduced to as low as reasonably achievable (ALARA).

The levels of acrylamide and furans obtained over the period of January 2016-November 2016 survey did not increase FSA’s concern about the risk to human health. The agency, therefore, did not change its advice to consumers.

The survey results provided FSA with measurements for consumer exposures to the processing of individual foods but did not take into account all food prepared in home-cooking.

Also in 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued non-binding guidance “to help growers, manufacturers and foodservice operators reduce acrylamide levels in certain foods.”

The problem on both sides of the Atlantic is what do about acrylamide in food. No one knew the chemical existed until it was discovered in 2002. It’s been around close to forever, though. The problem, according to the FDA, is that acrylamide can cause cancer in laboratory animals at high doses, and is “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.”

EFSA classified acrylamide as a carcinogen in 2015 and found levels had not “consistently decreased” in recent years. Voluntary measures to reduce acrylamide levels varied widely in European Union countries.

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