Acrylamide is a chemical compound formed during by 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.
In 2005, EFSA said the carcinogenic and genotoxic properties of the substance meant its presence in food was a possible health hazard. Two years later an annual monitoring scheme involving 20 EU members and Norway was introduced. The most recent data set in 2009 has seen 3,287 new results compared to 3,728 results for 2008 and 3,350 results for 2007.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) said that, on comparing data from 2009 with 2007, a trend towards lower acrylamide levels was detected only in crackers, infant biscuits and gingerbread.
However, over the same three-year period it found that levels of the substances actually increased in crisp bread and instant coffee. There was no change in six groups: potato crisps, oven fried potatoes, breakfast cereals, jarred baby foods, processed cereal-based baby foods and ‘bread not specified’.
The highest average levels of acrylamide were detected in potato crisps and substitute coffee, which includes coffee-like drinks derived from chicory or cereals such as barley.
The upper bound mean acrylamide levels ranged from 37 μg/kg for ‘bread soft’ to 1504 μg/kg for substitute coffee. The highest 95th percentile value – the highest value of the most reliable 95 per cent of the results - was reported for substitute coffee at 3976 μg/kg and the highest maximum value for ‘potato crisps’ at 4804 μg/kg.
The latest results showed that European exposure levels in different age groups were similar to previous years, said the research.
The food safety watchdog concluded that so far the ‘acrylamide toolbox’, and launched by the CIAA (Confederation of the Food and Drink Industries of the EU) in 2005 to help food processor cut levels of the chemical, had so far had only a limited impact.
“As in previous annual acrylamide reports it can likewise be concluded that the application of the acrylamide toolbox has had only limited success,” said the report.
The report also highlighted a number of limitation with the data, saying that no European trend could be identified in eight of the 22 food groups, whilst there was insufficient information available for wafers, and coffee not specified, as well as and muesli and porridge.
The EFSA experts said that three years was not enough time to reveal trends across all food groups and said differences in test methods and sample number across different member states also contributed to the current unclear picture. It called for greater consistency in these areas in order “to be able to distinguish random fluctuations from real observable trends”.
The body concluded: “To lower overall exposure it would be desirable to further reduce acrylamide levels in food groups contributing the most to acrylamide exposure, like fried potatoes (including French fries), soft bread, roasted coffee, biscuits.”
To read the full report click HERE