The guidelines issued this month by the Confederation of the Food and Drink Industries of the EU (CIAA) are a means of sharing research information garnered by the larger companies to those who donot have the money or resources to do the job properly.
Reducing acrylamide in foods industry wide can only help improve the public perception about food safety, which has suffered in recent years.
Acrylamide hit the headlines in 2002 when scientists at the Swedish Food Administration first reported unexpectedly high levels of the potential carcinogen in carbohydrate-rich foods cooked at hightemperatures. Until then acrylamide was known only as a highly reactive industrial chemical, present also at low levels for example in tobacco smoke.
Studies indicate that the chemical causes cancer in rats,. Toxicological data suggested that this substance might be - directly or indirectly - carcinogenic also for humans.
The news, and surrounding controversy over the chemical, jolted the EU's food industry into tackling the issue by looking at ways processing can reduce the levels of acrylamide.
A wide range of cooked foods - prepared industrially, in catering, or at home - contain acrylamide at levels between a few parts per billion (ppb) to over 1000 ppb. The foods include bread,fried potatoes and coffee as well as specialty products like potato crisps, biscuits, crisp bread, and a range of other heat-processed products.
The document issued by the CIAA provides descriptions of the intervention steps being evaluated by food manufacturers. In some cases the procedures are already being used by food processors, areundergoing testing or are the result of laboratory studies.
The document is a result of three years of research.
The CIAA will update the guidance as new processes are discovered or achieve trial stages. The final goal is to find appropriate and practical solutions to reduce the overall dietary exposure toacrylamide, the CIAA stated.
"This approach allows individual manufacturers, including also small and medium-size enterprises with limited research and development resources, to assess and evaluate which of theintervention steps identified so far may be helpful to reduce acrylamide formation in their specific manufacturing processes and products," the CIAA stated.
The chemical appears to form as a result of a reaction between specific amino acids, including asparagine, and sugars found in foods reaching high temperatures during cooking processes. The processis known as the Maillard reaction. This occurs at temperatures above 100°C (212°F).
Most of the tools described in the document relate to the reaction. In many cooking processes, the Maillard reaction is the predominant chemical process determining colour, flavour andtexture of cooked foods.
The task of the food industry in solving the acrylamide puzzle was to keep the good reactions while reducing the acrylamide byproduct.
The cooking process in itself - baking, frying, microwaving - as well as the cooking temperature itself seems to be of limited influence, the CIAA stated.
It is the thermal input that is crucial, the temperature and heating time to which the product is subjected. The document outlines 13 parameters at which acrylamide formation could bereduced.
These include steps that can be taken at the agronomical, recipe, processing or final preparation stages. Food makers can use the parameters to match their products with each stage tocheck at what level tested interventions have an impact on reducing the chemical.
Acrylamine has become subject to regulation in the US. By moving to reduce the chemical the EU industry hopes to avoid the situation occuring in California.
There, the state government is suing nine top food manufacturers over their reluctance to issue warnings that some popular snacks could contain the chemical.
Attorney general Bill Lockyer argues that the state's anti-toxics law, Proposition 65, requires companies to warn consumers about products containing chemicals known to cause cancer or birthdefects.
Acrylamide, a carcinogen that is created when starchy foods are baked, roasted, fried or toasted, was placed on the list in 1990. But some food companies remain reluctant to highlight the potentialdanger in snack products such as fries and potato chips.
A copy of the CIAA document on acrylamide can be found at: www.ciaa.be.