Acrylamide in foods: Initial successes but no breakthrough

Initial successes have been achieved but the all clear cannot yet be given - this is how the BfR risk assessors see the acrylamide situation one year after the Swedish National Food Administration (NFA) drew attention to what were, in some cases, high levels of acrylamide in foods. The question of analysis has largely been settled; the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment is currently making its experiences available on the European level. In some areas acrylamide levels could be reduced. All the same, significant, lasting trends cannot yet be identified from the data made available by the Federal Office for Consumer Protection and Food Safety. It became clear very early on that major efforts would be necessary by industry, scientific circles and public authorities but also by consumers in order to minimize the consumer risk from acrylamide in foods given the complex nature and scale of the problem. Nevertheless, from the angle of risk assessment, a greater degree of success would have been desirable. The call for a further major reduction in acrylamide levels in foods is, therefore, fully upheld.

The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment continues to classify the occurrence of acrylamide in foods as a serious health risk for man. It can be assumed that the substance can also trigger cancer in man and damage the genotype. The message of a new study from Sweden published at the beginning of the year in the British Journal of Cancer, which was unable to detect any link between the uptake of acrylamide and an increase in specific tumour rates, is not sufficient in the opinion of BfR to sound the all clear. Given the "toxicity" of the substance, its occurrence in many foods and, by extension, the exposure to it, leads to a comparatively high health risk for consumers. The fact that human beings may have taken up large amounts of acrylamide from foods for a very long time does not reduce the importance of the problem but, in the opinion of the Institute, rather underpins the need for a rapid solution. The Institute, therefore, repeats its call for the levels of acrylamide in foods to be reduced as far and as quickly as possible.

One positive factor is that in the last twelve months the main mechanisms have been identified which contribute to the formation of acrylamide. This offers ways of bringing about a reduction in exposure, e.g. through technological changes. For instance, minimisation successes have been reported from Baden-Württemberg when making chips in restaurants. With the help of a colour chart made available to them, the restaurants can influence the degree of browning and thus reduce the acrylamide levels. Individual producers also report on successful minimization measures.

One constraint on success is that the potatoes themselves are "suppliers" of acrylamide. Choice of potato variety and changes in storage conditions can influence the contents in the final product but not avoid them all together.

Another problem area is the private household. A random survey by the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment involving more than 1,000 average 16-year-olds in Berlin revealed that more than 20 % of the average daily uptake of acrylamide came from fried potatoes (7 %) and toast (15 %). The flyer "Acrylamide - How to protect yourself and your family" contains tips on how to reduce the formation of acrylamide in the home. It is published jointly by the Ministry for Consumer Affairs and the aid infodienst, Bonn. It is very difficult to assess the extent to which information and awareness campaigns about the problem really reach consumers and encourage them to change their habits. Both in industry and in private homes, further considerable efforts will be required in order to minimize the risk to consumers from foods.


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