Acrylamide limits considered for potato, cereal and bakery goods

Chips are a starchy type of food prone to forming the carcinogen acrylamide

Food manufacturers may soon be forced to alter the way they make fried potato, cereal and bakery products after the EU drew up proposals to limit the levels of acrylamide found in such foods.

The proposals, laid out in a report last month by the European Commission (EC), included a series of “mitigation measures” to lower levels of acrylamide, which have been linked to cancer.

These measures include “good hygiene practice” and applying procedures based on hazard analysis critical control point principles.

They are “based on current scientific and technical knowledge and they have proved to result in lower levels of acrylamide without adversely affecting the quality and microbial safety of the product”, said the report.

The proposal is being discussed by the EC and Member States, and a vote is expected later this month. A previous attempt by the EC to set legal acrylamide limits was dropped last October.

Increase the risk of developing cancer

A highly water soluble, organic compound, acrylamide forms in baked or fried carbohydrate-rich foods such as cereals, potatoes and coffee beans. In 2015, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) concluded that acrylamide could increase the risk of developing cancer in all age groups.

One in 14 food products tested in 2015 were found to have “dangerously high” levels of acrylamide, according to analysis of previously unpublished EFSA data conducted by the Changing Markets Foundation (CMF), which works to promote healthier and more sustainable living.

The analysis, which reviewed the results of almost 9,000 laboratory tests in Europe, found the highest level – almost six times above the European reference value – was found in a sample of potato crisps in Germany.

A sample of biscuits taken in Spain, meanwhile, had the second highest value, 10-times over the European benchmark for that food group.

Higher levels of acrylamide

Results from the official tests conducted by European food safety authorities identified most cases of non-compliance and detected higher levels of acrylamide than those from manufacturers, according to the CMF.

Our analysis suggests that there is a significant discrepancy between industry’s self-monitoring and official results,” said Nuša Urbančič, CMF campaigns director.

“This makes us question whether such self-monitoring regimes are indeed delivering for public health or just covering up for the worst offenders in the industry.”

Urbančič described it as “alarming” that the highest proportion of offending products were found in categories of foods destined for babies, with one in four of all cereal-based baby food samples being above the European reference level.

The CMF also criticised the EC’s proposal to keep the bulk of monitoring of acrylamide levels “firmly in the hands of industry”.

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