The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recently published its first full risk assessment of acrylamide in food, confirming the compound is genotoxic and carcinogenic and consequently poses a public health risk.

Acrylamide is naturally formed in the cooking of foods containing starch and therefore found in a wide variety of foodstuffs including coffee, biscuits, crackers, crisps and soft bread.

It is not possible to ban the precursors of acrylamide in food, since they are naturally occurring and do not offer a risk to the consumer, but the risk comes from the formation of acrylamide when cooking at high temperatures or for too long.

What can regulators do?

There are currently no regulatory maximum limits for acrylamide in food. But the European Commission (Commission) has introduced ‘indicative values’ for food groups considered to contribute the most to consumers’ diets and are intended as a guide to prompt investigation when higher levels occur.

The food industry should be aware it is possible that maximum limits may be proposed the future as there is a strong desire within the Commission and EU Member States for credible, enforceable and measurable action on acrylamide.

The Commission has set out four options for an approach to regulate acrylamide levels:

1. Minor updates to the current position (updating recommendations and indicative values).
2. Using HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) and related measures to manage acrylamide levels.
3. Establishing guidance levels (stronger than indicative levels and could be used for enforcement).
4. Establishing strict compliance levels.

Support among Members States is strongest for Options two and four and the Commission plans to establish agreement on the approach to managing acrylamide risk in early 2016.

Biggest challenge

Whatever option is selected, it will be important that it is a pragmatic and workable solution for the food industry. In particular, those sectors producing foods with relatively high levels of acrylamide, such as bakeries.

As part of The Institute of Food Safety Integrity & Protection’s work to keep members informed, we will be following the Commission’s work on the topic and will provide updates and insights.