What is acrylamide?
Acrylamide is a naturally occurring by-product of the cooking process that forms naturally in a wide variety of foods when they are heated or cooked, including coffee, chocolate, almonds, french fries, crackers, potato chips, cereal, bread and even some fruits and vegetables. While acrylamide has been present in the human diet ever since we began cooking with fire, it was not known to be in food until 2002 when a group of Swedish scientists presented research that detected it in some baked and fried foods. Prior to the Swedish study, food was not analyzed for acrylamide because it was not an added ingredient, nor was it known to be a component of food.
Is acrylamide added to products?
No. Acrylamide forms naturally when carbohydrate-rich foods are fried, baked, grilled, toasted or roasted at high temperatures. Acrylamide forms when foods are cooked at home
and in restaurants as well as when they are made commercially. The primary way that acrylamide forms in foods is through the reaction of reducing sugars (such as glucose) with free asparagine, an amino acid found in many foods, during the browning process. Reducing sugars, asparagine, and other amino acids are all naturally present in many plant-based foods.
Why is there a concern about acrylamide?
At doses much higher than what naturally occurs in foods, acrylamide has been found to cause cancer in laboratory animals. Currently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration
, the World Health Organization
and most other health regulatory bodies have not determined that the presence of acrylamide in food presents a health risk to humans and do not recommend that consumers change their diets for the purpose of avoiding acrylamide. Studies are ongoing on this subject.
Additionally, industry has conducted significant research to discover and apply methods to reduce acrylamide in numerous products. As a result, acrylamide levels have been significantly reduced in many products, and efforts continue to reduce levels as low as reasonably achievable.
Is one food contributing more acrylamide than other foods to the diet?
Acrylamide has been around since mankind began cooking with fire and is present in approximately 40% of the American diet. As such, there is no single product that has been identified as the main contributor.
More importantly, the World Health Organization concluded that removing any one or two foods from the diet would not have a significant impact on overall exposure to acrylamide. That's why regulatory guidance to consumers regarding acrylamide has focused on recommending that people 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.
Furthermore, the amount of acrylamide in a particular food varies based on the natural components of raw materials and cooking conditions. Therefore, removing one food from the diet is unlikely to change overall consumption.
Which products contain acrylamide?
A wide range of carbohydrate-rich products subjected to heating and consequently the “browning Maillard reaction” - when flavors, colors, and textures are formed - generally contain acrylamide. Among the foods that develop acrylamide during the cooking process are coffee, chocolate, almonds, french fries, potato chips, cereal, crackers, bread, and even some fruits and vegetables.
What do government authorities advise regarding dietary intake of acrylamide?
Although the formation of acrylamide in cooked foods is still being studied, a number of leading government food safety authorities around the world advise consumers to eat a healthy and balanced diet, rather than eliminate certain foods.
For example, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends 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. Similarly, the World Health Organization (WHO) reinforces general advice on healthy eating, including moderating consumption of fried and fatty foods. The WHO concludes that there is not enough evidence about the amounts of acrylamide in different types of food to recommend avoiding any particular food product.
FDA and other health and scientific organizations are continuing to study acrylamide in food – how it is formed during cooking, its effect on health, and how its formation during cooking can be reduced. This research may form the basis for more specific dietary advice and/or federal regulation of specific food products in the future. FDA has explicitly stated, however, that warnings about acrylamide in food are not in the public interest at this time.
What solutions is industry implementing?
The industry's acrylamide mitigation efforts are truly global in scope. The industry has developed a special process using the enzyme, asparaginase, to mitigate acrylamide's natural formation in dough-based foods. This process has been implemented worldwide in every country that has approved the process.
In Europe, a guidance document or “Toolbox” has been developed by the European food processors' trade association (FoodDrinkEurope), in collaboration with European regulators and with input from the GMA and many of our member companies. The toolbox highlights possible ways to reduce acrylamide in different types of products. The industry follows this guidance and has implemented many of the techniques as well as others that industry discovered through its own research.
Will these changes eliminate acrylamide from all products?
Currently, there does not appear to be a practical and effective method for completely eliminating acrylamide from many kinds of products. There is not a single solution that can be applied to all foods. Nevertheless, through research and innovation, the industry is discovering ways to reduce levels of acrylamide in many foods and continues to develop innovative ways to reduce levels even further.