What is Acrylamide?
Acrylamide and FDA Regulations
Gaining the Attention of Industry
Acrylamide: The Basics
Acrylamide has been a topic of discussion among food producers and regulators for nearly two decades. The organic compound is primarily a product of a reaction between the amino acid asparagine and reducing sugars in mainly potato or grain products that are baked or fried. Acrylamide has been shown to cause cancer in animals exposed to large doses and is a suspected human carcinogen.
Though carcinogenic pathways are yet to be completely understood, the U.S. National Toxicology Program and the Joint Food and Agriculture Organization / World Health Organization Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) deem acrylamide a human health concern that should be monitored and controlled.
The FDA has been collecting and analyzing food samples as part of its Total Diet Study since 2003. The most recent data, collected in 2011 and 2015, indicates an overall reduction in acrylamide levels compared to earlier data for potato chips and crackers, but not other categories.
Still, a persistent presence of acrylamide in food products reinforces the FDA’s recommendation for industry to adopt or increase reduction efforts, as outlined in their 2016 Guidance for Industry on Acrylamide in Foods. However, beyond industry guidance, the FDA does not regulate how much acrylamide can be in food products.
The attention to acrylamide has also been clear within the European Union. Following FoodDrinkEurope’s 2013 guidance document “Acrylamide toolbox”, the European Commission solidified its stance on acrylamide reduction with a 2018 regulation aimed at setting lower benchmark values in certain product categories, namely french fries, potato chips, bread, breakfast cereals, bakery products, coffee, and baby food.
Business operators in these areas must aim for acrylamide levels that are “as low as reasonably achievable” and must provide enough data for levels to be assessed. Further, the regulation specifies how sampling and analysis must be done.
In addition to FDA and EU activities, numerous other scientific and regulatory organizations have developed acrylamide reduction strategies for growers, manufacturers, and foodservice businesses. Many of the strategies put forth in these guidance materials focus on the reduction of free asparagine, as that amino acid, in particular, is thought to be the main formation mechanism of acrylamide. Ingredient selection is a strong consideration, as ingredients such as rice have much lower free asparagine levels than wheat and rye.
Further, varieties of certain ingredients are now available that have been engineered to have lower levels of free asparagine. Farming practices and storage conditions of raw materials can have an impact on free asparagine levels as well. These things considered, many other factors drive ingredient selection, such as cost, availability, and nutritional and sensory qualities, so manufacturers may wish to take additional free asparagine reduction actions throughout processing. Two often-mentioned techniques are blanching, in order to remove surface free asparagine, and treatment with asparaginase, to break down the free asparagine and render it unable to react.
How We Can Help
Mérieux NutriSciences offers a wide range of support for acrylamide reduction efforts. Our newest offering, available now at our Crete, IL chemistry laboratory, is a method for the direct measurement of free asparagine in a variety of raw materials and finished food products.
Understanding free asparagine levels at different stages of production can be an important component to an overall acrylamide reduction plan. Beyond this, we offer an industry-leading LC-MS/MS method for the detection of acrylamide to 0.001 ppm, providing manufacturers with additional credible data with which to support reduction goals.
In addition to testing services, our expert consultants can help with risk assessments and acrylamide monitoring recommendations. Contact us today!