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Reducing the Risk of Acrylamide – What it Means for your Food Business

Not only has April 2018 brought us the implementation of the sugar tax, but it also brings us new legislation on managing acrylamide and, if you’re a food business operator (FBO), it’s something that you need to know about.

Acrylamide is a chemical which forms naturally in starchy foods when cooked at high temperatures (anything over 120˚C).  The sugars in the food items react with naturally occurring amino acids to form acrylamide.  This reaction takes place in potatoes in various forms, e.g roast, chips, crisps etc., bread, some cereal products and also coffee roasting.

Studies carried out in rodents found that exposure to the chemical increased the risk of developing different types of cancer quite significantly.  Although humans and animals react differently to certain chemicals, it is nevertheless the view of scientists that acrylamide could be a potential carcinogen.

It is therefore considered a food safety hazard and the EU has produced new guidelines which set out mitigation measures and benchmark levels to which FBOs are expected to adhere.  While it is impossible to eliminate acrylamide completely, it is possible to reduce levels of it in affected foods by following the mitigation measures provided, thereby reducing potential carcinogen risk to consumers.  Measures should be followed as far as is practicably possible without compromising current hygiene laws.

The legislation lists the following food items to which mitigation measures and benchmark levels should be applied:

  1. French fries, other cut (deep fried) products and sliced potato crisps from fresh potatoes
  2. potato crisps, snacks, crackers and other potato products from potato dough
  3. bread
  4. breakfast cereals (excluding porridge)
  5. fine bakery wares: cookies, biscuits, rusks, cereal bars, scones, cornets, wafers, crumpets and gingerbread, as well as crackers, crisp breads and bread substitutes
  6. coffee
  7. coffee substitutes
  8. baby food and, processed cereal-based food intended for infants and young children

 

Mitigation measures and benchmark levels

The legislation recommends using potatoes which have a naturally lower sugar content.  This will reduce the amount of acrylamide that is produced during the cooking process.  It also stipulates that potatoes should be stored above 6˚C; sugars multiply in potatoes stored in fridges/cold places, thus increasing the level of acrylamide in the end product. Before frying potatoes, they should be rinsed and left to soak in cold water for up to 2 hours and then rinsed again.  Blanching potatoes is also very effective in reducing acrylamide and it is recommended wherever possible and practicable.

Frying temperatures should be kept below 175˚C and lower if possible.  Suppliers should be consulted as to the most suitable oil to use.  Food debris such as crumbs should be skimmed off the fats and oils regularly to keep it free from potential contaminants. Last year, there was a campaign by the FSA to ‘go for gold’, referring to the optimum colour to which your bread should be toasted and your potatoes roasted or fried.  The legislation suggests using appropriate colour charts where available, although the benchmark is to aim for a light, golden colour.

With bread and cereal products, it is recommended that any yeast fermentation time is extended as far as is practicable, that the moisture content of dough be reduced as much as possible and, where viable, lower the oven temperature and extend the cooking time.

With coffee roasting and baby food, it is important to choose ingredients with the lowest potential for acrylamide and identify optimum cooking/roasting temperatures to ensure minimal acrylamide formation. If you are using pre-packed or frozen goods to cook and serve to consumers, cooking guidelines should be followed closely.

Compliance

As with any other legislation, it is important to demonstrate compliance. The chemical hazard of acrylamide and control measures thereof, should be identified and documented within the food businesses Food Safety Management System. Food manufacturers particularly will be expected to have robust procedures in place for sampling and analysis of products indicating that they are seeking to reduce levels of acrylamide in what is being provided to the end customers/consumers.  They will also be expected to keep detailed records of the results.  Once systems are in place, this should be relatively straightforward to maintain.

For more information

We can help.  Contact us if you would like further information or training for you or your staff.  You can find the legislation in full here and some helpful guidelines here.

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What is Acrylamide?

Acrylamide mitigation for food safety

We’ve all done it. We’ve popped the bread in the toaster and gone away and forgotten about it. The next thing we know, the smoke alarm’s going off and our toast resembles a lump of charcoal. Some of us will consign it to the dustbin, but others adhere to the old adage, waste not want not, and continue to consume it, attempting to overcome the burnt flavour with lashings of their favoured topping.

For years, there have been rumours circulating that burnt toast is carcinogenic but, realistically, is there any evidence for this?

Studies have shown that a chemical called acrylamide is formed naturally when starchy foods are cooked at high temperatures (anything above 120˚C). Food items that this applies to are potatoes in various forms, e.g. roast, chips, crisps etc., bread and some cereal products. The sugars in the foods react with naturally occurring amino acids when exposed to high temperatures to form acrylamide.

Scientists tested the impact of acrylamide on rodents and it was found that exposure to the chemical increased the risk of developing several types of cancer quite significantly. As a consequence of these results, food scientists are concerned that this evidence indicates there is a potential cancer risk to humans. There are a few caveats to this, however. It should be noted that the rodents were subjected to exceptionally large doses of the chemical, doses which would be far greater than any amount contained in your Sunday roast potatoes or a bag of crisps, for example. Studies in humans are still incomplete and are, at present, inconclusive. It is impossible to say that a chemical will affect animals and humans in exactly the same way so the results must be considered rationally and cautiously, but it is sensible to pay attention to the scientific findings and take some precautions.

This year, the Food Standards Agency has launched a campaign called, ‘Go for gold’. Contrary to how it might sound, they are not encouraging people to enter the Olympics, but have issued guidelines on how to attain the optimum shade of gold when cooking your starchy foods. With any form of cooking, whether it be frying, roasting or toasting, the goal should be to achieve a light golden colour. Cooking starchy food for too long and at too high a temperature will increase the amount of acrylamide. They also advise against keeping potatoes in the fridge as this can cause the sugars to multiply, thus raising the amount of acrylamide in the end product once cooked. Always check the guidelines on the packet when cooking things like oven chips. The food industry is attempting to do what it can to reduce the acrylamide concentrations in food so it would be prudent to follow their cooking guidelines.

It is easy to be alarmed by these reports about such staple fixtures of our diets, but it is important to remember that the studies on humans are inconclusive and that the risk is not yet substantiated. The Food Standards Agency recommends that a balanced and moderate diet including your standard 5 a day will help reduce the risk of cancer. Let moderation be our watchword and maybe that piece of toast really should just go in the bin.

 

Here is a video from the Food Standards Agency with some basic information on Acrylamide and their ‘Go for Gold’ Campaign.