Concern over acrylamide levels in foodstuffs arose in April 2002 when scientists in Sweden discovered unexpectedly high levels of this potentially carcinogenic compound in carbohydrate-rich foods heated to high temperatures. Scientists from the Swedish National Food Administration continue in their research.
According to a paper published in the online November 2003 edition of Food and Chemical Toxicology researchers Svensson et al from the National Food Administrationused recent food consumption data to estimate the dietary intake of acrylamide for the Swedish adult population. Research was based on foodstuffs with low to high levels of acrylamide (less than 30-2300 g/kg), such as processed potato products, bread, breakfast cereals, biscuits, cookies, snacks and coffee.
The estimated dietary intake of acrylamide per person (total population) given as the 5th, 50th and 95th percentile were 9.1, 27 and 62 g/day respectively, from those food/product groups (mean 31 g/day). No acrylamide was found in many other foodstuffs analysed and those were therefore not included in the dietary intake assessment of acrylamide. But, warned the scientists, an additional minor contribution of a few g/day of acrylamide from foods/products like poultry, meat, fish, cocoa powder and chocolates 'cannot be excluded'.
An average daily intake of 35 g corresponds to 0.5 g per kg body weight and day (body weight 70 kg). Risk assessments of acrylamide, made by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the World Health Organisation (WHO), imply that this dietary intake of acrylamide could be associated with potential health risks.
Since the Swedish discovery in April last year, national governments, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and food companies have measured acrylamide levels in a wide variety of foods - such as crisps, french fries and coffee - and begun to investigate ways to reduce levels of the chemical. Researchers earlier this year found that acrylamide is formed when glucose reacts at high temperatures with asparagine, an amino acid.
Earlier this year the US organisation Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) called on the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to require food manufacturers to limit the amount of the acrylamide in their products.
For the moment national governments and food safety agencies are treading carefully as they continue to investigate this potential carcinogen.