The European Commission plans to set maximum levels for acrylamide in ready-to-eat foods such as baby foods, crisps and breakfast cereals.
‘Go for Gold’ campaign
The actual levels, and the full list of affected foods, will be decided later this year in discussions following the adoption of the regulatory measure currently being proposed: compulsory measures to reduce the risk of acrylamide forming in food, and use of benchmark levels to verify their efficacy.
IFST says The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has also launched a ‘Go for Gold’ campaign this year advising people to minimize exposure to the ‘possible carcinogen’ when cooking at home.
Acrylamide is a chemical that is created when foods, such as potatoes and bread, are cooked for long periods at high temperatures, for example, when baking, frying, grilling, toasting and roasting. The scientific consensus is that acrylamide has the potential to cause cancer in humans.
“Our research indicates the majority of people are not aware acrylamide exists, or that they might be able to reduce their personal intake,” said Steve Wearne, director, Policy, FSA.
“We want our 'Go for Gold' campaign to highlight the issue so consumers know how to make small changes that may reduce their acrylamide consumption whilst still eating starchy carbohydrates and vegetables as recommended in government healthy eating advice.
“Although there is more to know about the true extent of the acrylamide risk, there is an important job for Government, industry and others to do to help reduce acrylamide intake. This campaign is part of the FSA's wider work to reduce the level of acrylamide that people consume.”
Code of Practice
In a statement, IFST said: ‘As of February 2017, the European Commission is consulting on a proposal to make the FDE Code of Practice for Managing Acrylamide Formation in Foods mandatory for food business operators.
‘This proposal is broadly supported by industry and by Member States, and legislation is expected in 2017.
‘The proposal follows prolonged discussions as to whether acrylamide controls should be based upon maximum concentration levels or upon a mitigation (Code of Practice) approach, and whether controls should be recommendations or legally binding. The proposal is for a legally binding Code of Practice.’
It claims the concentration of acrylamide recommended (European Commission 2013) to trigger investigations are still relevant, with caveats about differences in different national diets, and taken as a benchmark for many food types.
Prior to this, Germany was the only nation that adopted a formal scheme as a goal/recommendation concerning acrylamide limits in foods, known as the German Minimization Concept.
The updated Information Statement on ‘Acrylamide in Food’, dated February 2017, replaces that of June 2015 prepared by Prof J Ralph Blanchfield and is provided by John Points, food analysis and risk assessment expert, Acumentia Consulting, on behalf of the IFST Scientific Committee.
The report states;
1. The European Chemicals Agencyʼs (ECHA) Member State Committee identified acrylamide as one of 15 new chemicals for the Candidate List of substances of very high concern (SVHC) (ECHA 2009). Acrylamide has been included in that list (ECHA 2010).
2. The US Department of Health and Human Servicesʼ (DHHS) Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) has called for public comments concerning a Draft Toxicological Profile for acrylamide, “a toxic substance produced during heating of certain foods.” The profile “provides interpretation of available toxicological and epidemiological information and identification of toxicological testing needed to identify the types or levels of exposure that may present significant risk of adverse health effects to humans” (ATSDR 2009).
3. Acrylamide was one of 19 substances included in Batch 5 of the Chemicals Management Plan of Canada. This is part of Canadaʼs continuing review of about 200 chemicals of widespread industrial use that have not been through a thorough risk analysis. When the final screening assessments and proposed risk management plans was released, it was recommended that acrylamide be added to the governmentʼs list of toxic chemicals.
The decision to do so means the Government of Canada will have to take steps to ensure exposure of its citizens to acrylamide from food sources is kept as low as possible (ALAP).
A three pronged management approach to achieving this has been initiated and includes (a) working with the food industry to develop and implement acrylamide reduction strategies that can be used by food processors and the food service industry, (b) regularly updating consumption advice, and (c) working with international partners (EU, US, Japan) to coordinate risk management efforts (Government of Canada 2009).
For the US, the FDA recommendation has been and continues to be that the public eat a balanced diet, choosing a variety of foods that are low in trans fat and saturated fat, and rich in high-fiber grains, fruits, and vegetables. The US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) recommendation is:
(a) Avoid eating a lot of carbohydrate-rich foods that are cooked at high temperatures (e.g. French fries).
(b) Foods with higher protein content appear to have lower amounts of acrylamide.
(c) Avoid overcooking foods.
Dietary recommendations from other countries are similar to these. The Norwegian government, however, went further by recommending a decrease in consumption of potato crisps for those consumers who consume excessive amounts.
The UK FSA does not currently recommend consumers to avoid consuming foods high in acrylamide, but offers advice on minimizing acrylamide formation on home-cooking (UK FSA, 2017).
The FSA Chief Scientific Advisor's 2015 Science Report (Issue 2) considered household studies aimed at providing information on actual domestic cooking and preparation practices in the UK to inform this issue, through: identifying the practices in which consumers are engaging that might influence acrylamide formation; and providing an indication as to how much acrylamide consumers are exposed to from food prepared at home.
In the US, the FDA has issued advice to consumers on “how to help cut acrylamide in your diet” (US FDA, 2013b). It has also issued a general web page on Acrylamide Questions and Answers (US FDA, 2013a).
“No single method of reduction works universally. Reduction still must be addressed on a case-by-case or category-by-category basis. It is unlikely it will be possible to reduce the acrylamide content in many foods without changes in the food (color, flavor, texture) and consumer acceptability,” said Points.
“Food safety concerns must also be considered, as also any potentially involving diet-nutrition-health consequences.
“Those seeking to mitigate Acrylamide formation in their particular product should utilize the detailed Codes of Practice and guidelines aimed at different industry sectors and particular food types. These are sensible actions one should undertake now rather than wait for an uncertain regulatory outcome, which might be confounded even further by Brexit.”