Acrylamide issue tackled at IFT
remains a major challenge, scientists told last week's IFT
Scientists have tried to find ways of reducing acrylamide formation without destroying the taste and quality of the product. To date there has been no single all-encompassing method for achieving this, though scientists are confident that some progress has been made.
"International cooperation on this issue has been fantastic," said David Lineback, director, Joint Institute for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (JIFSAN) at the University of Maryland and a past president of the IFT."
"The meeting in Austria last week showed this. But there is as yet no data available on humans, so we simply don't know, or can't explain some of the increases and decreases in acrylamide levels."
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 high temperatures. 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 global food industry into tackling the issue by looking at ways processing can reduce the levels of acrylamide.
Breakthroughs have been made. For example, it was reported at IFT last week that reducing sugar prior to frying or baking is one way of lowering levels. Researchers told delegates in Orlando that food makers could select sliced potato varieties with reduced levels of sugar, or preblanch their products to achieve reduced levels.
Lowering pH has also been considered, but scientists generally agree that this ruins the taste of crisps and chips. Controlling acrylamide with lactic acid reduces pH levels and also reduces acrylamide formation.
But scientists are yet to find a way of ensuring that this does not affect end product quality. In addition, Lineback said that many labs still face challenges, such as addressing the complex matrix of some ingredients such as cocoa.
"Improvements in some labs would appear to be a necessity," he said.
In Europe, the food industry is working with European Commission officials on a programme to monitor and reduce acrylamide levels in their products.
Small working groups are also being set up develop information brochures, with the first meetings scheduled for September, the UK's Food Standards Agency said in a document issued this week.
The current EU-wide effort follows a bid by the Confederation of the Food and Drink Industries of the EU (CIAA) to help its members reduce acrylamide in their products.
The take home message from the IFT therefore is that there is still no single all-encompassing method of reducing acrylamide while still preserving product quality.
"But it is now possible to identify strategies for reducing acrylamide without reducing qualities," said Lineback.
"However, we're not there yet."