‘Alarming’ acrylamide levels in Italian crisps, strengthen calls for mandatory limits

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

© iStock
© iStock

Related tags: Acrylamide levels, Potato, Food safety

Safe Food Advocacy Europe (SAFE) has repeated calls for a legal acrylamide limit after tests on brands of potato crisps showed "alarmingly" high levels of the carcinogenic substance.

Investigations conducted by Il Salvagente, a consumer Italian magazine, found seven out of the 18 tested samples had an acrylamide level above 800 micrograms per kilogram (µg/kg), exceeding benchmark levels set out by the European Union of 750 µg/kg.

The highest concentrations were found in crisps made by French retail group Auchan, achieving an acrylamide level measuring 1600 µg/kg.

Other crisp makers that fared badly include Lidl’s own brand at 1300 µg/kg, Amica Chips (1200 µg/kg), Pam (1000 µg/kg), San Carlo Classica 950 µg/kg, Coop (990 µg/kg) and Amica Chips Eldorada at 800 µg/kg.

Results of the investigation were a matter of urgency for Floriana Cimmarusti, SAFE’s secretary general, who urged action to limit acrylamide levels for crisps but for other foods too.

“Faced with the current exposure levels, we could benefit from more determination by setting a maximum level to reduce acrylamide in some products, starting with baby foods,” ​said Cimmarusti.

“This would have been a change of pace in dealing with a food contaminant which continues to threaten consumer health.”

Sebastian Emig, European Snacks Association's director general responded to the findings stating that “The European Snacks Association welcomes the establishment of benchmark values that go along with the legal obligation to implement acrylamide mitigation measures that so far have been of voluntary nature, and are represented in the FoodDrinkEurope Toolbox."

"Since the detection of acrylamide in certain foods our sector is leading the work in reducing acrylamide in our products via raw material selection, process and product adaptions.

"This on-going work resulted so far in a decline in mean acrylamide levels over the last 14 years of roughly 50%. Results can be found in the study Acrylamide levels in potato crisps in Europe from 2002 to 2016​” 

'An alibi for companies'

Current benchmark levels set out by EU are followed on a voluntary basis, periodically reviewed by the European Food and Safety Authority (EFSA) who define the value as the "reference limit".

The agency has pointed out in the past that acrylamide levels in food are difficult to define let alone eliminate due to the substance being a process contaminant that is produced even when simply frying potatoes at home.  

Impending legislation due in April 2018 intends to establish new benchmark levels for the presence of acrylamide in food products and mitigation measures to reduce its concentration. Cimmarusti called the regulation a “step forward”.

“It goes beyond the voluntary approach that prevailed until now and has proved to be completely ineffective,”​ she added.

Staff at il Salvagente added that “reducing the presence of acrylamide in food products has not been achieved”.

“This creates an alibi for companies – which consumers struggle to understand – and an obstacle to food safety, since in the absence of a legal limit these products cannot be recalled from the market.”

While not a legal limit, EU Regulation 2158/2017 intends to enforce consumer protection with measures that lower existing guide values.

In addition, food firms will be obliged to take action to limit acrylamide production by monitoring and/or reducing cooking temperatures for example. More checks are to be put in place in order to verify adherence to the new rules.

“As the legislation will be applicable from April 11, we look forward to seeing the Commission working on this and hope that the introduction of maximum levels will firstly apply to baby foods,” ​said Cimmarusti.

Previous tests

Similar consumer tests carried out in the UK by food campaign group Changing Markets yielded comparable results in which sweet potato crisps produced by snack brand Tyrrells achieved an acrylamide level of 2483.6 µg/kg, a value 2.5 times above current indicative levels.

Supermarket crisps also performed poorly with three own-brand products from ALDI, ASDA and Morrisions producing acrylamide levels above the benchmark.

“The results reveal that several companies found to exceed dangerous acrylamide levels by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) haven’t done anything to address this problem,”​ said Nusa Urbancic, campaigns director for Changing Markets, a food campaign group and authors of the report.

“Seabrook, ALDI and ASDA continue to place on the market crisps with high levels of this carcinogen. This clearly points to the failure of self-regulation by industry and weak enforcement by the FSA.”​

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