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The new EU regulations for the management of acrylamide levels in foods came into force in the UK on the 11th April 2018. Commission Regulation (EU) 2017/2158 covers the establishment of mitigation measures and benchmark levels for the reduction of acrylamide in food.
What is acrylamide?
Acrylamide is a potential carcinogen that is formed when certain starchy foods, containing particular precursor amino acids, are processed at high temperatures. Processes that can trigger the formation of acrylamide include frying, roasting, baking and grilling. The main precursor amino acid required is asparagine. This amino acid has a far greater tendency to interact with sugars to form acrylamide than other amino acids. Acrylamide is found mainly in foods of plant origin and does not form, or forms at lower levels, in meat, fish and dairy products. Potato and cereal based food products tend to have the highest amounts of acrylamide among the most commonly consumed foods. Meat products are very low in acrylamide content as they have lower levels of, or lack, the precursors required for its formation. Acrylamide is also found in cigarette smoke and is produced industrially for use in plastics, cosmetics, grouts and water treatment chemicals.
How is acrylamide formed?
Typically, acrylamide will increase to higher levels when foods are cooked to higher temperatures for longer periods of time. This is part of the Maillard reaction, which leads to colour, flavour, and aroma changes in cooked foods. Acrylamide formation usually occurs at elevated temperatures used when frying or baking (above 120 °C) and in low moisture conditions.
Acrylamide has been shown to cause cancer in animal studies where very high doses of acrylamide were used. The Joint Food and Agriculture Organisation/World Health Organisation Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) concluded
that acrylamide is a human health concern and recommended further studies be carried out. Although a relatively recent issue, first being detected in foods in 2002, this does pose a significant challenge for the industry.
How can we reduce acrylamide levels?
The Annexes of the regulations include various possible mitigation measures which have been drawn from various codes of practice created for particular industry sectors and different food products (see the ‘useful links and resources’ section for more details). There are no silver bullets here, it is likely that a range of mitigation measures will need to be applied throughout the end-to-end supply chain. Such as, for potato-based products:
Careful selection of potato variety
Taking into account the impact of seasonal changes.
Avoiding exposing raw potatoes to low temperatures:
For consumers, the current advice is not to store raw potatoes in the fridge as this can lead to increased levels of reducing sugars such as glucose and fructose which are precursors for the formation of acrylamide. Communicating thus advice to consumers.
For crisp manufacture, I suggested mitigation measures:
which include increased peel removal, reduced frying temperatures and sorting by colour. This will need incorporating into line standards and factory specs.
However, all of the above mitigations, plus the many others which may be appropriate, are very likely to have an impact on a much wider range of factors such as quality, yield, cost and complaints. Hence the introduction of additional mitigations requires careful consideration and a risk-based approach incorporating into your HACCP study.
Still, where products are known to exceed the benchmark levels stated in the regulations, there will be an expectation of evidence to robustly show that the business have taken steps to ensure levels are ‘as low as reasonably achievable’ (ALARA) in their products. The benchmark levels (BML) set out in the regulations are generic performance indicators for defined food categories and not maximum levels. The stated BMLs are not intended to be used for enforcement purposes but they do provide a line in the sand to be compared against.
Do you need any help with your acrylamide assessment? We’d be happy to guide you through it, just get in touch!
Useful links and resources
Food Standards Agency – acrylamide information: https://www.food.gov.uk/science/acrylamide-0
Food Standards Agency Survey of Acrylamide and Furan in UK Retail Products: https://www.food.gov.uk/research/research-projects/survey-of-acrylamide-and-furan-in-uk-retail-products
FoodDrink Europe – Acrylamide Toolbox 2013: http://www.fooddrinkeurope.eu/uploads/publications_documents/AcrylamideToolbox_2013.pdf
FoodDrink Europe – Code of Practice for Managing Acrylamide Formation on Foods: https://corporateeurope.org/sites/default/files/attachments/aafooddrinkeurope_copsupdated_280616cleanonetemplate.pdf