Acrylamide is a chemical compound that typically forms in starchy food products during high-temperature cooking, including frying, baking and roasting. It forms from sugars and an amino acid that are naturally present in food. Acrylamide has been found in products such as potato crisps, French fries, bread, biscuits and coffee. It was first detected in foods in April 2002, although it is likely that it has always been present in food.
EFSA provides independent scientific advice to risk managers on acrylamide. In particular, in 2013 the Authority accepted a request from the European Commission to carry out a full assessment of the potential risks for human health of acrylamide in food. EFSA’s comprehensive assessment of this scientific issue will allow EU decision-makers to take account of the latest scientific findings in managing possible risks associated with the presence of acrylamide in the food chain.
EFSA also compiles data on acrylamide levels in a range of foods across Europe. Data submitted by Member States are assessed and, previously, have been compiled into annual reports. EFSA’s work helps identify trends in acrylamide levels over time.
Main work in progress
EFSA’s Scientific Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain (CONTAM Panel) is carrying out a full risk assessment of acrylamide in food. The CONTAM Panel will assess the toxicity of acrylamide for humans and update its estimate of consumer exposure through the diet. EFSA’s experts aim to complete this full risk assessment and publicly consult on their draft scientific opinion in mid-2014. The feedback received will assist the Panel in finalising its scientific opinion, scheduled for the first half of 2015.
In September 2012, EFSA received a proposal from organisations belonging to four EU Member States (Denmark, France, Germany and Sweden) to consider new scientific findings on the possible carcinogenicity of acrylamide. Subsequently, EFSA accepted a request from the European Commission to provide a scientific opinion on the potential risks for human health of acrylamide in food. During 2013, EFSA’s experts identified hundreds of scientific studies to consider for the Authority’s first full risk assessment of acrylamide. As part of its full risk assessment, EFSA will also update its European exposure assessment (last carried out in 2011) based on more recent data on acrylamide levels in food.
EFSA’s last annual monitoring report from 2012 did not reveal any considerable difference from previous years in the levels of acrylamide in most food categories assessed. In April 2013, EFSA launched a call to food business operators and other stakeholders to submit additional analytical data on acrylamide levels in foods and beverages collected from 2010 onwards. The Authority has also consulted consumer organisations, NGOs and the food industry through its Stakeholder Consultative Platform to find out about ongoing and recent research related to acrylamide in food. EFSA will also consider related international developments, including work by the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA).
Between 2009 and 2012 EFSA published four reports on acrylamide levels in food. This work was carried out by EFSA’s Dietary and Chemical Monitoring Unit. In 2012, EFSA published its fourth report on acrylamide, which compared data submitted in 2010 with previous data from 2008 and 2009. The previous report, published in 2011, included an exposure assessment to estimate the intake of acrylamide for different age groups as well as the major contributors to acrylamide exposure in the diets of consumers in Europe. Exposure estimates for the different age groups were comparable with those previously reported for European countries.