The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued draft guidance for the food industry "to help growers, manufacturers and food service operators take steps to reduce levels of acrylamide in certain foods." A chemical formed in some foods during high-temperature cooking, acrylamide has been characterized by the National Toxicology Program as "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen." Suggesting "a range of possible approaches to acrylamide reduction," the draft guidance stops short of identifying a specific maximum level or action level for acrylamide, but includes recommendations for potato-based foods, cereal-based foods and other products.
To reduce acrylamide formation during the cooking process, the draft guidance addresses what types of raw ingredients to use; how to transport, handle, store, and process ingredients; and how to prepare both fresh and par-cooked ingredients. In particular, FDA recommends, among other things, that the food industry (i) use certain kinds of potatoes and grains, e.g., tubers low in reducing sugars that have achieved optimal maturity and low-asparagine wheat; (ii) increase potato peel removal, wash potato chips before frying and cut thicker potato chip slices; (iii) add calcium salts, acidulants or asparaginase to potato dough in fabricated potato products; (iv) decrease cooking temperatures for potato products; (v) replace ammonium bicarbonate in cookies and crackers with alternative leavening agents; (vi) replace reducing sugars with non-reducing sugars in cereal-based foods; (vii) modify baking time and temperature to lower thermal input; and (viii) provide adequate instructions on frozen foods to guide final preparation by consumers and food service operators.
According to a November 14, 2013, press release, FDA plans "to publish additional data on acrylamide levels in certain foods based on its recent data collection and analysis." The agency will accept comments on the draft guidance until January 14, 2014. See Federal Register, November 15, 2013.
In a related development, the European Commission recently published recommendations stemming from its investigation of acrylamide in food. According to the Commission, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and member states have monitored acrylamide levels in food since 2007 in addition to working with food industry stakeholders to minimize the amount of acrylamide measured in their products. Noting that a 2010 EFSA report found no consistent trend toward lower acrylamide levels across food groups, the Commission has replaced its 2011 recommendation with new indicative values for acrylamide that will trigger further investigation by regulators.
To this end, the recommendations include the following indicative values for acrylamide (i) 600 μg/kg for ready-to-eat french fries; (ii) 1,000 μg/kg for potato-based crackers, potato crisps and potato dough; (iii) 80 μg/kg for wheat-based soft bread and 150 μg/kg for other soft breads; (iv) 400 μg/ kg for bran and whole grain cereals; (v) 500 μg/kg for biscuits and wafers; (vi) 450 μg/kg for roast coffee and 900 μg/kg for instant coffee; and (vii) 200 μg/kg for biscuits and rusks intended for infants and young children. The Commission also clarified that these levels were not safety thresholds, adding that investigations into acrylamide levels should include the food business operator’s Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points procedures "with a view to exploring… whether relevant processing steps susceptible for the formation of acrylamide have been identified and whether appropriate measures have been taken to control them."
In the interim, the Commission has directed member states to continue monitoring "the production and processing methods used by food producers in cases where the level of acrylamide in foodstuff… exceeds the acrylamide indicative value for the respective food category." Member states will report their findings to the Commission by October 31, 2014, and April 30, 2015, for further evaluation. See the Official Journal of the European Union, November 12, 2013.