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The battle against acrylamide: Progress and challenges in European food industries

This article was written and submitted to Potato News Today by Jorge Luis Alonso G.

A research team based in Italy monitored the acrylamide levels in 15,674 samples from 12 processed food commodities in a scientific study. Potato-based products and coffee were found to be the main sources of AA exposure. The “baby foods” and “soft bread” food categories had the lowest contamination levels. The data were then compared to the information previously published by the European Food Safety Authority to assess the trend over time and the effectiveness of the mitigation measures. The researchers reported on their study in the journal Food Control here.

The article below is a summary of the study and its findings.

Introduction

Acrylamide (AA), a compound used in many industries since the 1950s, is water soluble and of low molecular weight. It has raised concerns due to its potential carcinogenic properties and adverse effects on DNA, as well as neurological and reproductive health.

In 2002, researchers at Stockholm University and the National Food Administration made an important discovery: AA forms in food during high-temperature cooking, such as baking or frying, through the Maillard reaction. This finding led to its classification as a process contaminant in food and triggered widespread research and monitoring efforts to understand and control its presence.

Subsequently, between 2004 and 2013, the European Commission issued a series of recommendations aimed at promoting safer manufacturing processes. The focus was on reducing the formation of AA in food. This push for better practices was strongly supported by food safety authorities, in particular the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). In 2015, EFSA published an opinion that specifically identified potatoes, cereals and coffee as the main contributors to dietary AA exposure.

To further address this issue, the European Union introduced Regulation (EU) 2017/2158. This regulation set benchmark levels for AA content in various food products, providing food business operators with clear guidance on how to minimize AA. More recently, the EU has worked to harmonize enforcement standards across member states and refine analytical methods for detecting AA in food.

This study was conducted over two years and critically evaluated AA levels in processed foods. It compared these levels with previous EFSA data and provided insight into the success of the mitigation strategies outlined in the aforementioned regulation.

EU Standards & AA Levels: Assessing Food Contaminants

This study presents an ISO-17025:2018 accredited method for the assessment of AA in various foods, highlighting its consistency with established standards. By using consistent analytical techniques, the study shows the accuracy of the method through repeated testing on improved samples. It also meticulously calculates measurement uncertainty, taking into account several systematic factors. Significantly, the results are in line with the European Food Safety Authority’s guidelines, which advocate uniform methods and sufficient sampling in each food category to ensure statistical robustness.

In addition, the research presents acrylamide levels in different foods, noting the highest concentrations in potato chips and snacks. It carefully examines the percentage of samples exceeding EU regulatory limits and points out the critical role of accurate handling of non-quantifiable and non-detect results in dietary exposure assessment. Compared to EFSA data, the study shows generally lower mean AA levels for most food categories, although some, such as potato crisps and snacks, are exceptions.

Finally, the study assesses the impact of EU regulatory measures in reducing AA in food. It highlights significant reductions in acrylamide levels in potato crisps and discusses innovative approaches in coffee production. The study also examines both traditional and cutting-edge methods of AA reduction, emphasizing the importance of these strategies being both industrially viable and sensory. This thorough analysis highlights the ongoing need for vigilant monitoring and strategy development to manage acrylamide levels in a range of food products.

Conclusion

The presence of AA in various foods poses significant health risks. This emphasizes the critical need to monitor AA levels for consumer safety and to evaluate the effectiveness of new food preparation methods to minimize contamination. Recent research supports the 2015 findings of the EFSA, which showed reduced levels of contamination in most food categories. However, it’s important to note that processed potatoes and coffee had higher contamination levels.

The overall reduction in contamination levels is promising. This reduction is particularly noteworthy as the sampled products adhered to a strict self-monitoring plan. This compliance ensured that products exceeding the benchmarks set by the European Union (EU) did not enter the market. In particular, baby food showed a remarkable improvement, with a fivefold reduction in contamination levels compared to the levels reported by EFSA.

This significant reduction underscores the effectiveness of European regulations and the proactive measures taken by food manufacturers to reduce AA levels. It also highlights the critical need for continued monitoring and strict enforcement to protect public health.

Source: Rampazzo, G., Casarotto, M., Finotello, C., Redaelli, M., Pagliuca, G., & Gazzotti, T. (2024). Outcomes of self-control plans on acrylamide levels in processed food. Food Control, 156, 110134. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodcont.2023.110134
Photo: Credit Bella RaKo from Pixabay

Editor & Publisher: Lukie Pieterse


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