Acrylamide in Food - Regulatory and Industry Update

New regulations concerning the levels of acrylamide in foods and drinks were published on 20th November 2017.

Some 15 years after the occurrence of acrylamide in cooked foods was first reported, the University of Reading hosted a symposium on 16th November run by the RSC (Royal Society of Chemistry) Food Group - “Acrylamide in Food - Regulatory and Industry Update” - where experts in the field, including Mark Willis from the FSA, discussed the impending regulations.

Acrylamide has dipped in and out of the news since it was first discovered to be present in food in 2002. It is classified as a class 2A (probable carcinogen) and, as such, EU regulation were issued in 2011 which stated indicative levels for different classes of food and drinks, and the food industry was expected to take all practical steps to keep below these indicative levels. New regulations were published in November this year and the RSC Food Group one-day symposium provided an opportunity for delegates from the food industry to learn more about the regulations and the potential impact on their business.

Professor Don Mottram from the University of Reading opened the symposium with a summary of the acrylamide problem. He presented data from a recent publication (Halford et al., Food Addit. Contam, 2017) summarising 75,000 analyses of potato crisps from across Europe, which showed an initial downward trend in average acrylamide levels since 2002, as manufacturers implemented reduced time temperature strategies. However, over the last 5 years, this has stabilised and no further reductions were observed.

Examples of new benchmark values vs. old indicative values (from Prof. Mottram’s presentation):

Food 2017 Benchmark Level [μg/kg] 2013 Benchmark Level [μg/kg]

French fries (ready-to-eat)

500

600

Potato crisps
Other potato crisps

750

1000

Soft bread
a) Wheat
b) Other


50
100

80
150

Breakfast cereals

300

400

Biscuits and wafers
Crackers
Crispbread
Gingerbread

350
400
350
800

500
500
450
1000

Roast Coffee

400

450

Instant (Soluble) Coffee

850

900

Baby foods, processed cereal based

40

50

Biscuits and rusks for infants

150

200

Dr Natalie Thatcher reviewed recent toxicological information. There is clear evidence in animals that acrylamide is genotoxic, the active mutagen being glycidamide which is a known metabolite of acrylamide. In humans, of two cohort studies, one showed neurological alterations, but neither showed an increased cancer risk. The evidence from 16 epidemiological studies did not indicate an increase in cancer through diet, although the data was limited and inconsistent. However the scientific opinion from EFSA from 2015 remains unchanged. Their conclusion was that for all consumer groups, there is still a concern for the genotoxicity and carcinogenicity based on animal evidence.

Mark Willis from the FSA provided key information regarding the impending new regulations, and these vary depending on whether the FBO is a large scale manufacturer, a local and independent supplier or part of a centrally supplied chain. They are all required to take practical steps to manage acrylamide formation, and new benchmark limits have been issued. These are not maximum limits, and are similar to the indicative levels introduced in 2011, although most have been reduced by 20-30 %. For example, the benchmark level for potato crisps has been reduced from 1000 to 750 ug/kg and French fries from 600 to 500 ug/kg. FBOs must implement a risk based sampling plan, representative of all types of food, which is updated as required, reviewed annually, and the results of which should be made available to enforcement officers on request. However the regulation recognises “that nature and organoleptic characteristics of traditional foods, which consumers expect and enjoy, should not be affected”.

There were shorter presentations from analytical experts looking at recent advances in analytical techniques, particularly how to increase throughput for routine analyses. There were contributions from The University of Hacetteppe, Turkey, showing how radio frequency and vacuum post-baking technologies can be used to mitigate acrylamide formation, and from the University of Reading showing how modelling of the reaction can help to understand the underlying chemistry and enable us to target mitigation strategies. Dr Taş presented recent work from Reading showing that the use of calcium chloride effectively reduces acrylamide (and flavour) formation, but switching to calcium lactate seemed to retain significantly more of the flavour.  Kees Veese from the gold sponsor DSM, showed how their enzyme PreventASe® could be used in many applications (tortilla chips, infant cereals and crackers) to convert the acrylamide precursor asparagine into aspartic acid thus reducing acrylamide formation by 80-90%.
 
Professor Nigel Halford from Rothamsted Research, a specialist in agronomy, showed how asparagine levels can vary tenfold between varieties of wheat. Fertilisation with excess nitrogen can exacerbate acrylamide formation whereas if insufficient sulfur is applied to the crop (20 kg/Ha recommended), acrylamide levels can be up to 5 times higher. Fungicidal treatment also reduces acrylamide formation. Interestingly, in the US, GM potatoes with reduced activity of the asparagine synthetase gene (and therefore low acrylamide) are on the market in the US.

Professor Halford concluded that genetic and agronomic approaches to solving the acrylamide problem could eventually lead to massive savings for the food industry, dwarfing the cost of the research. Step reductions in the acrylamide-forming potential of potatoes and cereals may be possible using modern techniques, such as genome editing. Research in this area will ensure that consumers continue to enjoy the variety and health benefits of potato and cereal products (phytochemicals, fibre, protein, B vitamins, iron, calcium, phosphoric acid, zinc, potassium, magnesium etc.) while food safety is improved.

Professor Bryan Hanley from the KTN outlined many funding streams available through Innovate-UK, particularly addressing the gap between fundamental research carried out in academia, and the private sector. It covers technology readiness levels 4-6 where projects can be too risky for private investment. These projects are usually led by UK organisations and can be up to £10 million. Further details are available from Bryan.hanley@ktn-uk.org.

Useful Links:

Speakers included:

  • Mark Willis – Food Standards Agency, Andrew Curtis – European Snacks Association

  • Dr Natalie Thatcher – Modelez UK

  • Professor Nigel Halford – Rothamstead Research

  • Professor Don Mottram – University of Reading

  • Emille Clauzier – RSSL

  • Nathan Hawkins – Anatune

  • Raniero Zazzeroni – Pepsico UK

  • Dr Jane Parker – University of Reading

  • Professor Brian Hanley – Knowledge Transfer Partnership

  • Jaap Berg-Vanden, DSM Netherlands

  • Professor Bronek Wedzicha – University of Leeds

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