European food manufacturers may be required to reduce the amount of the carcinogen acrylamide in a wide variety of food products after European Union (EU) member states voted in favor of the European Commission’s (EC) proposal to set legally binding limits. Products with the highest levels of acrylamide include potato chips, French fries, and other fried potato products, snack foods, bread, cereals, and coffee. Acrylamide is listed as a Prop 65 carcinogen in California, requiring warnings be given to consumers in that state consuming products with acrylamide content. The FDA has issued guidance to the U.S. food industry.
It is possible that mandatory mitigation action and benchmark levels in foods and beverages in the European marketplace could be in place as early as the spring of 2018, with maximum levels possibly following after that.
The EC Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Vytenis Andriukaitis, welcomed the vote in a news release on July 19: “Today we took an important step in protecting the health and well-being of citizens. The new regulation will not only help to reduce the presence of this carcinogenic substance but also will help raise awareness on how to avoid the exposure to it that oftentimes comes from home-cooking.”
The text that was approved will now be sent to the European Council and the European Parliament. The two institutions will have three months to examine it before final adoption by the Commission. The entry into force could be as early as spring 2018.
The Commission is also planning to initiate discussions on additional measures, such as setting maximum levels of acrylamide in certain foods without delay once this regulation is adopted.
Earlier this year, an investigation revealed lightly salted sweet potato chips from premium U.K. potato chip manufacturer Tyrrells contained more than two times the EU recommended limit. Almost one-in-five potato chip varieties had high levels of acrylamide, an investigation by sustainability pressure group Changing Markets found.
In March, the campaigners also revealed that 10 percent of biscuits for infants and young children on sale in the U.K. contained high levels of the substance. Studies show that children, due to their diets, consume twice as much acrylamide each day as adults, on a bodyweight basis.
Acrylamide is a carcinogenic and neurotoxic substance that forms from naturally present free asparagine (an amino acid) and sugars during high-temperature processing, such as frying, roasting, toasting, and baking, particularly in potato-based products, cereal-based products, coffee, and coffee substitutes. Toasting bread in the home or restaurant can cause acrylamide levels in the final toast to be up to eight times greater than in the pre-toasted bread.
The text of the draft proposal is available here.
Campbell is a writer for the food industry.