New EU law comes into effect to reduce acrylamide content in food
New European Union rules have come into effect that require food producers to both identify sources of acrylamide – a common, potentially carcinogenic by-product of the cooking process – in their goods, and demonstrate how they are working to cut down the content of the chemical in such products.
Acrylamide is a by-product of the cooking process used in the production of a variety of foods, including baked, fried or toasted bread; snack products like crisps, alongside some other products like coffee.
Any food that contains the naturally-occurring amino acid asparagine and reducing sugars (carbohydrates) will yield acrylamide once heated to temperatures over 120°C. Fried potato products like fries, crisps and hash browns have been found to contain the highest levels of acrylamide, while toasted bread can have up to 10 times as much acrylamide as untoasted bread.
Acrylamide is a proven carcinogen and poses severe health risks – damaging side-effects that has prompted the EU to take action. The new legislation follows the example set by California’s well-established Proposition 65, which requires manufacturers to inform consumers of the presence of any listed substance or carcinogen – include acrylamide – in the products they consume.
Passed by the EU last year, the new legislation – which entered into law on 11th April – restricts the amount of acrylamide permissible in packaged foods and forces manufacturers to actively reduce the amount of acrylamide in their final products.
The EU has established ‘benchmark’ levels of acrylamide for various food products, ranging from 350 micrograms (μg) of acrylamide per kilogramme for biscuits and cookies, to 750μg per kilogramme for potato crisps and 850μg per kilogramme for instant soluble coffee.
The benchmark levels for foods specifically targeted towards children – like baby foods and rusks – are notably lower, reflecting widespread concern around the health implications of acrylamide.