Manufacturers face tough new laws to cut acrylamide levels in food

By Rick Pendrous contact

- Last updated on GMT

Acrylamide forms in starchy foods as a result of high temperature processing
Acrylamide forms in starchy foods as a result of high temperature processing
Manufacturers face tougher legal restrictions on the levels of the carcinogen acrylamide permitted in food, after the failure of many parts of the industry to cut them by voluntary measures.

This news emerged following a meeting of scientists from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and other stakeholders last week (Wednesday December 10) held to discuss responses to a recent consultation on acrylamide in food.

While industry representatives present questioned the adequacy of some of the data on which risk assessments were being made about the dangers of acrylamide, a European Commission (EC) representative and some others highlighted the need for tougher risk management controls.

Acrylamide is a contaminant that forms in starchy foods as a result of high temperature food processing, including cooking. Coffee, together with snacks such as fried potato products, biscuits, crackers and crisp breads, soft bread and certain baby foods (mainly rusks and biscuits) are important dietary sources of acrylamide.

Acrylamide toolbox

Food and Drink Europe, which represents food and drink manufactures in the EU, updated an ‘acrylamide toolbox’ of measures in 2013 to help companies reduce levels of acrylamide in food. But, as a result of the variable adoption of these measures – with the notable exception of the snacks sector, which is seen as a success story – industry commentators expect tougher regulatory measures to be introduced by the EC after the EFSA publishes its final recommendations on acrylamide in food in June 2015.

“On the risk management side there was no new news, although there was greater (verbal) emphasis that there will be legislation and that the current situation is insufficient as awareness and application of the toolbox is not being done voluntarily,” ​according to one industry representative present at the meeting.   

Last week’s meeting mainly focused on EFSA’s recent draft description of the potential health risks of acrylamide in food and estimation of human exposure to acrylamide in the diet. In its July 2014 draft opinion, EFSA provisionally concluded that “acrylamide in food potentially increases the risk of developing cancer for consumers in all age groups”.

‘Unsatisfactory and variable’

At the meeting, ​Frans Verstrate, head of division at DG SANCO, which is responsible health and consumers at the EC, explained the next steps for EU risk managers once EFSA’s opinion is finalised in 2015.

The EC considers the implementation of voluntary mitigation measures to reduce acrylamide levels in food “unsatisfactory and variable”​ among food business operators. The EC, together with risk managers in Member States, will discuss further measures at EU level to reduce acrylamide levels in food as low as reasonably achievable.

Verstrate reported that implementation of the acrylamide toolbox was insufficient. He noted that in some Member States many businesses were not aware of the toolbox and where there was awareness, various reasons were cited for not applying the tools, including cost, impact on product quality, lack of expertise and because it was not mandatory.​ 

Regulation likely

“Today's meeting has been useful for us to listen, discuss, explain and better understand the public consultation results,”​ said Dr Diane Benford, chair of EFSA’s Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain (CONTAM) following the meeting.

“This will certainly help us to refine our risk assessment and provide clear scientific advice for risk managers to use in developing regulatory or other measures.”

She added: “We may look to better explain our assessment of the possible health effects especially in relation to studies involving humans. Further clarification of our dietary exposure estimation and the breakdown and reporting of food categories could also be helpful.”

When asked about the likelihood of tougher regulation being introduced to restrict acrylamide levels in food, a Food Standards Agency (FSA) spokesman said: “A number of options for reducing the potential risk from acrylamide are currently being explored. In the meantime consumers should follow the FSA’s existing advice on how to reduce exposure to acrylamide.”

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