Snacks sector hits back over crisp acrylamide claims

The Snack, Nut and Crisp Manufacturers' Association said the results of a recent acrylamide investigation should not be looked at in isolation

The UK snacks manufacturers’ organisation has hit back over claims the industry was unaware of the potential risks of acrylamide, or was unwilling to take measures to reduce the levels of the cancer-causing chemical.

The Snack, Nut and Crisp Manufacturers’ Association (SNACMA) said an investigation by sustainability pressure group Changing Markets included just a small portion of the entire potato crisp industry. The results shouldn’t be taken at face value, it added.

Its response followed claims that 16 potato crisp varieties exceeded the recommended EU maximum level for acrylamide of 1,000µg/kg.

A SNACMA spokesman said: “The study is a snapshot survey which, if shared with the European Food Safety Authority, will help to inform the review of the indicative values as part of the Commission’s current proposals.

‘Should not be read in isolation’

“However, this data should not be read in isolation, and should be considered alongside other data collection activities.”

A 2013 report from the University of Reading and the European Snacks Association covering more than 40,000 potato crisp samples from 20 European countries, showed a “significant downward trend” in acrylamide levels. The number of potato crisp samples above the EU recommended limit fell from 23.8% in 2002, to 3.2% in 2011, the report revealed.

“These decreases have continued in recent years across the sector,” SNACMA said.

The industry continued to invest significant resources to address the problem of acrylamide, said SNACMA. That included education, participation in crop research programmes and introducing new food processing procedures and technologies, it added.

‘Significant reductions’

“As a sector we have identified and applied a series of tools which can impact upon acrylamide formation, and their use has resulted in significant reductions in detected levels within our products,” it said.

“However, natural variability within raw ingredients, across seasons and across harvests, means that we will always see some variability in levels in finished products.”

Changing Markets’ investigation revealed almost one in five potato crisp varieties – including those from Tyrrells, Morrisons and Aldi – contained high levels of acrylamide. One variety – Tyrrells’ ‘sweet potato lightly salted crisps’ – was almost 2.5 times above the recommended EU limit for acrylamide.

Meanwhile, Changing Markets also revealed last month that 10% of biscuits for infants and young children on sale in the UK contained high levels of acrylamide. The pressure group said it organised campaigns designed to shift market power away from unsustainable products and companies, and move them towards environmentally and socially beneficial solutions.

What is acrylamide?
  • Acrylamide is a chemical that is found in certain carbohydrate-containing foods heated above 120°C. Decreasing cooking time, blanching potatoes before frying and drying in a hot air oven after frying will decrease the levels of acrylamide in some foods, according to the US National Cancer Institute (NCI).
  • Previous studies have linked acrylamide exposure to several types of cancer in rodents, but evidence from human studies is still incomplete, NCI added. The National Toxicology Program – a US government-funded research organisation – and the World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, said acrylamide was a “probable human carcinogen”.

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