Acrylamide is formed in starchy foods – mainly bread, crackers and cookies as well as coffee and potato products.
Acrylamide is formed when sugar and asparagine, an amino acid that occurs naturally in grains, are heated above 100 °C. This is due to a chemical process known as the Maillard reaction. The process gives fried foods and baked bread its’ brown color and its distinctive flavor. Acrylamide levels are kept relatively low as long as water is part of the equation. Levels rise with an increase in time and temperature as moisture is being reduced.
In a report written by Livsmedelsverket*, the Swedish Food Agency, it has been established that the intake of acrylamide primarily comes from three different product categories; potato products, grain-based products and coffee. The levels of acrylamide and consumed quantity both decide the total intake of acrylamide. As acrylamide is a carcinogen, there is no dose small enough that it is deemed safe and not contributing to an increased cancer risk. *Source: Livsmedelsverkets report series no 11 part 2/2017
Studies in animals confirm that acrylamide is carcinogenic and causes DNA damage. High doses can cause neurologic damage and infertility. Scientific experts in the EU believe that the carcinogenic effect could be applicable to humans. Acrylamide is water soluble and easily absorbed by the body. Keeping intakes at a minimum is thus highly recommended.
Certain amounts of acrylamide can’t be avoided. The way crops are cultivated, stored and selected (as well as seasonal variations) can affect acrylamide levels.
The EU Regulation, EU 2017/2158, establishes mitigation measures and benchmark levels for the reduction of the presence of acrylamide in food which food producers must comply with. These benchmark levels act as guidance for food producers and a basis for future actions within the EU. Set benchmark levels should not be seen as “approved” levels as they are not linked to the risk posed by the acrylamide content in the various categories. The benchmark levels may be revised.
The trade organization Food Drink Europe has compiled a toolbox to assist food producers in keeping their products compliant with EU regulation. The document provides thorough explanations on how various foods should be processed – from cultivation to preparation – in order to decrease the levels of acrylamide.