Potential health risks related to the presence of acrylamide in food: the EFSA’s risk assessment

28 October 2015  •  Author(s): Diane Benford, Head of Risk Assessment at the UK Food Standards Agency / Peter Fürst, Director of the Chemical and Veterinary Analytical Institute in Münster / Luisa Ramos Bordajandi Scientific Officer, Unit on Biological Hazards and Contaminants, EFSA

Acrylamide is a chemical that naturally forms in starchy food products during every-day high-temperature cooking, such as frying, baking, roasting and also industrial processing usually above 120°C and low moisture. In view of the known toxic effects, the discovery of its presence in certain foods stimulated new research studies on its toxicity, on the influence of processing on the acrylamide levels in food, and on possible mitigation measures. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has performed a risk assessment concluding that acrylamide in food potentially increases the risk of developing cancer for consumers in all age groups.

Potential health risks related to the presence of acrylamide in food

Acrylamide (CH2=CHCONH2) is a low molecular weight, highly water soluble, organic compound, that is used among others, as an industrial chemical. Heightened concerns about human exposure to acrylamide arose in 2002 when it was discovered that it forms in certain foods during every-day high-temperature cooking, such as frying, baking, roasting and also industrial processing at temperatures usually above 120°C and low moisture. As it forms in numerous baked or fried carbohydrate-rich foods, including French fries, potato crisps, breads, biscuits and coffee, there is widespread human exposure. Several pathways and precursors have been proposed to contribute to the acrylamide formation in food, the main formation mechanisms being the reaction of the free amino acid asparagine with reducing sugars that are naturally present in many foods, via the Maillard reaction.

The toxicological properties of acrylamide had been well studied and included neurotoxicity, genotoxicity, carcinogenicity and reproductive toxicity. In 1994 the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified acrylamide as a Group 2A carcinogen (probably carcinogenic to humans). In view of the known toxic effects, the discovery of its presence in certain foods stimulated new research studies on its toxicity, on the influence of processing on the acrylamide levels in food, and on possible mitigation measures…

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