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Acrylamide and food legislation

Acrylamide is identified under EEC No 315/93 as a chemical contaminate (EC1993). A chemical compound formed in certain types of food, in the presence of free sugars, mostly fructose and glucose, it is potentially harmful, with carcinogenic and neurotoxic properties. 

Asparagine, an amino acid is thought to be its precursor or building blocks.

 In 1992 on the west coast of Sweden farm animals died in large numbers and construction workers on a nearby railway station renovation were taken very ill.  It was discovered that polyacrylamide in a sealing compound had not polymerised and had leached into the water system.  Investigating scientists discovered that ordinary people, non-smokers, also showed evidence of high levels of acrylamide exposure, this was eventually traced to foodstuffs that had been high heat treated as part of their normal cooking procedures, particularly starchy foods that had been deep fried.  Toxic effects of exposure in industrial accidents were well documented and proven to show neuro-toxic damage, however this was not expected in foodstuffs.  Known exposure in laboratory animals has shown carcinogenic occurrences but this has not been proven in humans.  

In 2007 a widespread US study showed that at least one cancer, breast cancer was not affected by the relative large amounts of acrylamide rich foods in the diet (Coultate, 2016). Acrylamide is produced by cooking foods at a high temperature for an undetermined length of time, it effects a wide variety of very popular foods: baked goods, fried potatoes, meat products and any heated starchy foods cooked above 120oC are worthy of risk assessment (Downey et al, 2006). Potatoes and how they are stored and the length of time they are stored for are of concern.  There does not appear to be any correlation between the types of oil that may be used to heat the foods, just temperature and time.

The effect of this legislation upon how chefs and the food industry store, prepare and cook their food is significant.  As a chef I want to make my food appealing, the manipulation of the maillard reaction is a chef’s greatest ally.  What of the gorgeous crispy roast potatoes, the snap of a brandy basket, the crunchy brittleness of a praline?  The idea that we should be reduced to offering pale bland soggy roast potatoes is enough to make me throw my apron out and shred my toque!

However, as a food safety trainer, I get it.  Identifying hazards is core to the implementation of HACCP, a food safety management system that underpins food safety at all levels of food business.  Acrylamide detection and control is just another consideration in some ways.  The initial presumption that the identification of Acrylamide might at first glance seem only applicable to the cooking stage will of course be incorrect.  The menu planning, recipe formulation and sourcing will be the first steps of mitigation for this determination.  Chefs are often naturally creative and passionate about their craft.  We choose raw ingredients with the final product in mind, deliberately choosing foods high in natural sugars so that the end product is crispy, or will deliver the sweet charred effect we desire and that is expected.  So: Are Barbecues out?  Crispy bacon a thing of the past?  What about the famous Crème Brulee?

This is going to be a hard sell to chefs!

A toolbox developed by FoodDrinkEurope is available to help the industry and is very useful.  Re-formulation can be achieved however, at what cost?  As low as is reasonably achievable (ALARA,) is the mantra here.  The substitution of ingredients cannot have a detrimental effect on either health promoting ingredients, like wholemeal ingredients or on the overall organoleptic properties, many countries have national association with certain foods, and changing them is not an option.

I trust the research.  I have faith in the European Food Safety Association and its role as advisors to the E.C.  I know that the FSAI and enforcement officers will do everything they can to help Food business operators (FBO) comply with legislation, however this cannot allow for personal preferences in the home.  Most food is still prepared cooked and consumed in the home.  Will the general population take note?  Will they believe the science?  I think they will put it down to a nanny state culture of the E.U. 

As chefs and FBO’s are we to tell our customers they cannot have a well- done piece of toast? Above the toaster in the self -service breakfast buffet shall we display infographics and colour charts.  It is my opinion that food business’s will meet this challenge and do all they can to comply with legislation and prove due diligence if required.  From education, training, recipe re-formulation, HACCP reviews and equipment re-evaluation, the new legislation requirements will, given time be understood and implemented.

How you tackle what the home consumer does is another issue entirely.  Food producers can reformulate foods, thus attempting to lessen the impact, but since man started to cook the taste and appearance of charred, golden brown seared crispy food has been on the menu.  It is difficult to see anything but very slow change.


Article by FSPA Member Theresa Keane TK Training