Acrylamide in food: getting to grips with new legislation

Acrylamide is a word that has been popping up in the news a lot of late. And if you are involved in any element of food safety, either as an industry professional or a trainer, it’s a word you’re going to be hearing a lot more.

This April saw the European Union (EU) pass legislation to limit the amount of acrylamide allowed in packaged foods for the first time. The legislation also compels manufacturers to actively reduce the level of acrylamide in their finished products.

The move came after a number of high-profile stories in the UK press concerning the use of acrylamide in food. But what is it? And how can food safety professionals stay on the right side of the new legislation?

What is acrylamide?
Acrylamide is a chemical that naturally forms in starchy food products during every-day, high- temperature cooking, such as frying, baking and roasting, and industrial processing at 120°C and above.  It mainly forms from sugars and amino acids that are naturally present in many foods. Fried products such as chips and crisps contain the most acrylamide, while toasted bread can contain ten times as much as untoasted bread. The most important food groups contributing to exposure are fried potato products, coffee, biscuits, crackers and crisp breads, and soft bread.

Acrylamide is a known carcinogen and can pose a health risk, particularly to children who are more likely to have cereal and potato-based snacks in their diets. However, possible harmful effects of it on the nervous system, pre and post-natal development and male reproduction were not considered to be a concern, based on current levels of dietary exposure.

The new legislation
The new legislation was introduced on 11 April 2018. Previously, efforts to reduce acrylamide in food had been voluntary. However, the new legislation sets a benchmark level of acrylamide for various food products, which go from 350 micrograms (μg) of acrylamide per kilogram for biscuits and cookies, 750μg per kilogram for potato crisps, and 850μg per kilogram for instant soluble coffee. Foods aimed at children such as rusks and baby food have considerably lower benchmark levels.

Facts for trainers and food business operators
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has already published guidelines that will be of use to trainers and food business operators.

General advice includes:

• be aware of acrylamide as a food safety hazard and have a general understanding of how acrylamide is formed in the food they produce
• take the necessary steps to mitigate acrylamide formation in the food they produce; adopting the relevant measures as part of their food safety management procedures
• undertake representative sampling and analysis where appropriate to monitor the levels of acrylamide in their products as part of their assessment of the mitigation measures
• keep appropriate records of the mitigation measures undertaken, together with sampling plans and the results of any testing

Trainers should keep an eye out for updates by the Food Standards Agency on the regulatory requirements. In the meantime, further guidance can be found via the links below:

http://www.bha.org.uk/interim-acrylamide-guidance/

http://www.efsa.europa.eu/sites/default/files/corporate_publications/files/acrylamide150604.pdf

https://www.food.gov.uk/science/acrylamide-0