Acrylamide occurs in food when it is cooked at very high temperatures – causing it to brown. Coffee, fried potato products, biscuits, crackers and crisps, breads and certain types of baby foods are all dietary sources of acrylamide, the EFSA said.
European and national authorities already advise food manufacturers to reduce the amount of acrylamide in foods as much as possible, and to develop dietary and food preparation advice to consumers.
The latest EFSA draft opinion has confirmed previous animal-based studies on the effect of acrylamide in the diet. However, studies of the effects of acrylamide on humans have so far provided limited and inconsistent results, said EFSA.
As a result, the EFSA’s Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain (CONTAM) has launched a public consultation on the draft opinion.
Dr Diane Benford, chair of CONTAM, said acrylamide was absorbed into the body by the gastrointestinal tract, distributed to all organs and extensively metabolised, leaving behind glycidamide.
“Glycidamide is the most likely cause of gene mutations and tumours seen in animal studies,” said Benford.
The CONTAM panel will also consider the other possible harmful effects of acrylamide on the nervous system in its consultation.
Previous evaluations of acrylamide, such as one published by the European Commission’s former Scientific Committee on Food in 2002, concluded that there was insufficient information available at the time to determine an actual risk to consumers.
However, an EFSA CONTAM panel endorsed a risk assessment carried out by the World Health Organisation and the Food and Agricultural Organisation in 2005, which indicated a human health concern.
The panel said it “could not rule out the potential harmful effects of dietary” exposure to acrylamide.
Scientists and other interested parties will be able to comment on the consultation until September 15.
The deadline for the final adoption of the opinion is June 2015.