Acrylamide and Food Safety
Acrylamide is a chemical that naturally forms in starchy food products during high-temperature cooking, including frying, baking, roasting and also industrial processing, at +120°C and low moisture. The main chemical process that causes this is known as the Maillard Reaction; it is the same reaction that ‘browns’ food and affects its taste. Acrylamide forms from sugars and amino acids (mainly one called asparagine) that are naturally present in many foods. Acrylamide is found in products such as potato crisps, French fries, bread, biscuits and coffee. It was first detected in foods in April 2002 although it is likely that it has been present in food since cooking began. Acrylamide also has many non-food industrial uses and is present in tobacco smoke.
So how do you like your toast? While there’s no direct evidence that acrylamide can cause cancer in humans, there is evidence it can cause cancer in laboratory animals.
All food businesses operators (FBOs) in the UK are required to put in place simple practical steps to manage acrylamide within their food safety management systems. This ensures that acrylamide levels are as low as reasonably achievable in their food.
Regulation 2017/2158 establishes best practice, mitigation measures and benchmark levels for the reduction of the presence of acrylamide in food.
Businesses are expected to do the following:
- be aware of acrylamide as a food safety hazard and have a general understanding of how acrylamide is formed in the food they produce;
- take the necessary steps to mitigate acrylamide formation in the food they produce – adopting the relevant measures as part of their food safety management procedures
- undertake representative sampling and analysis where appropriate, to monitor the levels of acrylamide in their products as part of their assessment of the mitigation measures
- keep appropriate records of the mitigation measures undertaken, together with sampling plans and results of any testing
The measures are proportionate to the nature and size of the business, to ensure that small and micro-businesses are not burdened. The legislation applies to all FBOs that produce or place on the market the foods listed below:
- french fries, other cut (deep fried) products and sliced potato crisps from fresh potatoes
- potato crisps, snacks, crackers and other potato products from potato dough
- breakfast cereals (excluding porridge)
- fine bakery wares: cookies, biscuits, rusks, cereal bars, scones, cornets, wafers, crumpets and gingerbread, as well as crackers, crisp breads and bread substitutes
- coffee: (i) roast coffee; (ii) instant (soluble) coffee
- coffee substitutes
- baby food and processed cereal-based food intended for infants and young children
Different requirements apply to local and independent FBOs selling food directly to the consumer or directly into local retail. For example, independent cafes, fish and chip shops and restaurants.
For larger centrally controlled and supplied chains with standardised menus and operating procedures the legislation reflects that the controls of acrylamide can be managed from the centre. This would apply to for example, large restaurants, hotels and café chains.