The EU Commission has recently published a new regulation establishing measures to reduce acrylamide in food. These regulations came into force on the 11 December 2017, and from the 11 April 2018, businesses will need to be able to demonstrate that they have identified potential sources of acrylamide in their business. Businesses will also need to have put in place measures to ensure levels of acrylamide are kept as low as possible.

What is acrylamide?

Acrylamide is a chemical substance formed by a reaction between amino acids and sugars. It typically occurs when foods with high starch content such as potatoes, root vegetables and bread, are cooked at high temperatures (over 120°C) in a process of frying, roasting or baking. Acrylamide is a natural by-product of the cooking process and has always been present in our food.

It is important to appreciate that it is not possible to completely eliminate acrylamide from foods, but actions can be taken to try and ensure that acrylamide levels are as low as reasonably achievable. This will now be required by law. Acrylamide is considered to be a chemical hazard and legislation has been made to require businesses to mitigate levels in food.

Potential health effects of acrylamide

Laboratory tests show that acrylamide in the diet causes cancer in animals. While evidence from human studies on the impact of acrylamide in the diet is inconclusive, scientists agree that acrylamide in food has the potential to cause cancer in humans as well and it would be prudent to reduce exposure.

Foods high in acrylamide

Acrylamide is found in wide range of foods including roasted potatoes and root vegetables, chips, crisps, toast, cakes, biscuits, cereals and coffee.

The duration and temperature of cooking determines the amount of acrylamide produced: long durations and higher temperatures form more acrylamide than short durations and lower temperatures.

How to reduce acrylamide:

  • When frying, baking, toasting or roasting starchy foods such as potatoes, root vegetables and bread, aim for a yellow colour or lighter
  • Carefully follow cooking instructions on the food packaging to ensure that you aren't cooking starchy foods for too long or at temperatures which are too high
  • If you intend to cook raw potatoes at a high temperature do not store them in the fridge as it may lead to the formation of more free sugars which can increase acrylamide levels. Raw potatoes should ideally be stored in a dark, cool place at temperatures above 6 °C
  • Eating a healthy, balanced diet will help to reduce acrylamide in food - so ensure you are getting your 5 a day

Food Business Operators will be expected to:

  • Be aware of acrylamide as a food safety hazard and have a general understanding of how acrylamide is formed in the food they produce
  • Take the necessary steps to mitigate acrylamide formation in the food they produce; adopting the relevant measures as part of their food safety management procedures
  • Undertake representative sampling and analysis where appropriate, to monitor the levels of acrylamide in their products as part of their assessment of the mitigation measures
  • Keep appropriate records of the mitigation measures undertaken, together with sampling plans and results of any testing

The legislation describes practical measures based upon best practice guidance developed by the food industry to mitigate acrylamide formation in a range of foods. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) and Food Standards Scotland are working with the British Hospitality Association and other key stakeholders to develop simple guidance which will help the catering and foodservice sectors comply with new rules. Guidelines to aid understanding of the enforcement of the legislation will also be available in the New Year.