Acrylamide is a carcinogenic and genotoxic substance that forms during high temperature cooking by a heat-induced reaction between sugar and an amino acid called asparagine. Known as the Maillard reaction, this process is responsible for the brown colour and tasty flavour of baked, fried and toasted foods.
Since it first became apparent in 2002 that there are high levels of acrylamide in fried and baked foods, the CIAA (Confederation of Food and Drink Industries of the EU) has put together a ‘toolbox’ of tactics for food manufacturers to reduce acrylamide levels in products.
The Commission has recognised the importance of member states continuing to monitor and supply information to EFSA on an annual basis. Its new recommendations, adopted and published in the official journal last week, calls for all member states to provide information to its risk assessor by 1 June every year, starting from 1 June 2011.
The Commission noted that data collected in 2007 and published last year showed no consistent trend towards lower levels across food categories, meaning it is not yet know whether the toolbox is achieving its desired function.
However the new recommendations appear to have been drawn up before publication of the 2008 data last month, which do show an apparent downward trend in some categories – but not all. In particular, crisps, instant coffee, and substitute coffee products, such as those based on barley or chicory showed higher levels in 2008 than the previous year.
EFSA said last month: “It may be appropriate to assume that the application of the acrylamide toolbox was effective only in a limited number of food groups.”
It noted in particular that the toolbox does not currently contain any methods for reducing acrylamide in coffee and coffee products.
The new EU recommendations say levels should be measured using procedures laid out in the 2007 acrylamide regulation 333/2007. They adds to this by setting the minimum number of samples that each member state should take across 10 categories:
Ready-to-eat French fries
Pre-cooked fries and potato products for home cooking
Biscuits, crackers, crisp bread and similar
Coffee and coffee substitutes
Baby foods (other than processed cereal based)
Processed cereal-based foods for infants and young children
The sampling should take place before the expiry date of the product, the Commission says. It also recommends that sampling take place at market level – that is, in supermarkets, smaller shops, bakeries, restaurants, and French fries outlets - where there is good traceability through the supply chain.
Alternatively sampling can take place at production sites, it says.
Moreover, unless in special cases where only imported products are on the market, the sampling should be of products originating in the EU.
The entry in the EU’s Official Journal is available online here.