Produced naturally in food when cooked or processed at temperatures above 120 deg C, acrylamide has been suggested as a potential source of cancer in humans based on studies with laboratory animals.
An FSA spokesman told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “Our latest survey, covering the years from 2007 to 2011, shows an upward trend in acrylamide levels in processed cereal-based baby foods – excluding rusks.”
The survey reported a 56.5% increase in acrylamide concentration in samples collected during the review period.
But acrylamide levels in other products, such as pre-cooked French fries, potato products for home cooking and bread fell during the review period.
The levels in pre-cooked French fries and potato products for home cooking fell by 12.4%. In breakfast cereals, acrylamide levels fell by 9.9% while for bread, biscuits and potato crisps the reductions were 9.8%, 8.7% and 8.9% respectively.
The FSA spokesman said that it would be possible to account for the changes only when the next survey is completed covering the years 2011 to 2013.
But the report concluded: “The levels of acrylamide and [related chemical] furan reported do not increase concern about risk to human health. The agency has therefore not changed its advice to consumers.”
The FSA said the survey, based on samples taken from 248 products, offered “a snapshot of the range of levels of acrylamide furan” that may be expected in UK retail foods. But it did not cover food prepared in the home, which “has the potential to be a major contributor to overall exposure”.
The risks from acrylamide in food are unclear but the chemical has caused nerve damage in people who have been exposed to very high levels following occupational and accidental exposure through industrial use.
There are no maximum limits for the chemical in food. But the European Commission has introduced "indicative values" for those food groups considered to contribute the most to consumer dietary exposure to acrylamide.
The survey results for acrylamide and furan will be sent to the European Food Safety Authority for collation, trend analysis and, for furan, risk assessment.
The surveys are conducted in response to European Commission recommendations, to investigate the levels of acrylamide and furan in retail food.
Meanwhile, FSA advised that chips should be cooked to a light golden colour. Bread and bread products should also be toasted to the lightest colour possible, it said.
Acrylamide is formed from a reaction between natural components in food: the amino acid asparagine, and simple sugars. The chemical is said to be less likely to occur in foods cooked at lower temperatures for short periods, such as boiled potatoes.
Furan is produced in food and drinks when naturally occurring sugars, polyunsaturated fats and ascorbic acid (vitamin c) degrade during cooking or processing.