The European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA’s) Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain (CONTAM Panel) has published a draft scientific opinion on acrylamide (AA) in food that urges the further reduction of dietary exposure to the substance. According to the draft opinion, AA is formed when the sugars and amino acids in carbohydrate-rich foods—such as coffee, fried potato products, cookies, crackers, bread, and some baby foods—undergo a Maillard reaction during high-temperature cooking. Animal studies have allegedly linked AA consumption to an increased risk of certain cancers, although the panel noted that the substance’s effects on the nervous system, pre- and post-natal development, and male reproduction are not considered a concern based on current exposure levels.

To estimate human dietary exposure to AA, the CONTAM Panel analyzed 43,419 results collected since 2010 by 24 EU member states and six food associations. The findings evidently showed that infants, toddlers and other children are the most exposed age groups based on body weight (bw) and consume on average between 0.5 and 1.9 μg/kg bw per day. For infants, the most common exposure routes were “baby foods, other than processed cereal-based,” “other products based on potatoes” and “processed cerealbased baby foods.” For toddlers, other children and adolescents, “potato fried products” accounted for one-half of total AA exposure, followed by “soft bread,” “biscuits,” “crackers,” “crisp bread,” “other products based on cereals,” and “other products based on potatoes.”

“Acrylamide consumed orally is absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract, distributed to all organs and extensively metabolised. Glycidamide, one of the main metabolites from this process, is the most likely cause of the gene mutations and tumours seen in animal studies,” CONTAM Panel Chair Diane Benford said in a July 1, 2014, EFSA news release. “So far, human studies on occupational and dietary exposure to acrylamide have provided limited and inconsistent evidence of increased risk of developing cancer.” EFSA will accept comments on the draft opinion until September 15. See EFSA News Release, July 1, 2014.