Acrylamide, the way forward

Related tags Acrylamide Food Carcinogen European food safety authority

European scientists agree that efforts to reduce the potential
carcinogen acrylamide from the European food chain must continue,
and that science must focus on long-term studies to build a
stronger picture of the impact this genotoxic compound can have on
human health.

Meeting under the aegis of Europe's food watchdog, a scientific panel​ (CONTAM) discussed conclusions drawn from a recent meeting of the UN-backed Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA).

Acrylamide hit the headlines in 2002 when scientists at the Swedish Food Administration first reported unexpectedly high levels of this chemical in carbohydrate-rich foods.

The compound is formed naturally when these foods are fried, baked, grilled, toasted or microwaved at high temperatures (120 °C or higher), for example chips, roast potatoes, crisps and bread.

In its recent evaluation the JECFA applied a margin of exposure (MOE), also proposed by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), approach for the risk assessment of acrylamide. Noting that the calculated MOEs were low for a compound that is genotoxic and carcinogenic, JECFA concluded that this may indicate a human health concern for acrylamide.

More than 200 research projects have been initiated around the world with their findings co-ordinated by national governments, the European Union and the United Nations.

Key points to emerge from the UN panel meeting in March were that: acrylamide be re-evaluated when results of ongoing carcinogenicity and long-term neurotoxicity studies become available; work should be continued on using physiologically based pharmacokinetic (PBPK) modelling to better link human biomarker data with exposure assessments and toxicological effects in experimental animals.

In addition, the group underlined that appropriate efforts to reduce acrylamide concentrations in food should continue.

Since the identification of acrylamide, the €799 billion European has started to tackle the issue, in particular looking at ways processing can reduce the levels of this potential carcinogen. According to the industry's body, the CIAA, recent processing investigations have achieved a 30 to 40 per cent reduction in acrylamide.

Acrylamide appears to form as a result of a reaction between specific amino acids and sugars found in foods reaching high temperatures in their cooking processes.

Judging the presence and impact of acrylamide in consumers, a new study released earlier this month from researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health and the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, suggests the amount of acrylamide eaten in the diet does not pose an increased risk of breast cancer among the women in the study. Although they caution their findings only relate to breast cancer.

Animal and laboratory studies in the past have shown higher levels of certain types of tumours in rats, including mammary gland tumours, but according to the researchers they were exposed to acrylamide levels 1,000 to 100,000 times greater than levels humans are exposed to through diet.

Elsewhere, a global risk analysis​ of nearly 7000 food items carried out recently by the UN finds French fries, potato crisps and coffee recording the highest contamination levels, but confirms that recent studies by food industry show processing methods could significantly reduce the levels.

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