Advice from the experts – What caterers need to know about acrylamide

By Mark Wills, head of chemical contaminants and residues at the Food Standards Agency 

Recently introduced legislation (Regulation (EU) 2017/2158) requires certain food business operators (FBOs) to manage acrylamide in their business.

Acrylamide is a chemical substance that is created when many foods, particularly starchy foods like potatoes and bread, are cooked at high temperatures (above 120°C), such as when baking, frying, grilling, toasting and roasting.

Acrylamide is formed during high temperature cooking, when water, sugar and amino acids combine to create a food’s characteristic flavour, texture, colour and smell. This process is called the Maillard reaction.

Long cooking times and higher temperatures form more acrylamide than short cooking times and lower temperatures. Laboratory tests show that acrylamide in the diet causes cancer in animals.

Scientists agree that acrylamide in food has the potential to cause cancer in humans as well. It is therefore appropriate to take reasonable action to reduce exposure to this contaminant and make sure that acrylamide levels are as low as reasonably achievable. FBOs that prepare or produce foods within the scope of the regulation, must put in place practical steps to manage acrylamide within their food safety management systems.

The legislation covers foods such as chips, French fries and cut potatoes, potato crisps and snacks, bread, breakfast cereals, cookies, biscuits and other fine bakery wares, coffee and coffee substitutes and baby foods and processed cereal based baby foods.

FBOs will need to take steps to:

  • Have an awareness of acrylamide as a food safety hazard and a general understanding of how acrylamide is formed in the food prepared or produced.
  • Put in place appropriate steps to manage acrylamide reduction in the food prepared or produced. The steps a food business operator puts in place to manage acrylamide reduction are called mitigation measures. Different mitigation measures are required depending on the type of food produced and the size of the food business. Mitigation measures are listed in the Annex of the Regulation and cover certain potato products, dough-based potato crisps, snacks and crackers, fine bakery wares, breakfast cereals, coffee, certain baby foods and foods for infants and bread. Larger food businesses and food manufacturers are required to put in place different mitigation measures to smaller, local food businesses.
  • Include the relevant steps as part of the FBOs food safety management procedures.
  • Keep appropriate records to show what steps have been taken to reduce acrylamide and that levels are as low as reasonably achievable.

The legislation is proportionate to the size and nature of the business and the legislation lists various practical steps that different types of business can undertake. Some FBOs may need to put in additional steps, such as sampling and testing, but this will depend on the size of the business and what they do.

The regulation also sets out benchmark levels of acrylamide for the broad food categories. It is important to note that these are not legal maximum limits or safety levels but they can be used to monitor the effectiveness of the measures put in place to reduce acrylamide. Link to the legislation: https://bit.ly/2NHBTmp

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