Acrylamide

Acrylamide is a chemical that naturally forms in starchy food products during high-temperature cooking, including frying, baking, roasting and also industrial processing, at +120°C and low moisture. The main chemical process that causes this is known as the Maillard Reaction; it is the same reaction that ‘browns’ food and affects its taste. Acrylamide forms from sugars and amino acids (mainly one called asparagine) that are naturally present in many foods. Acrylamide is 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 been present in food since cooking began. Acrylamide also has many non-food industrial uses and is present in tobacco smoke.

Last updated: 
5 June 2015

Topics: Completed work

On 4 June 2015, EFSA published its first full risk assessment of acrylamide in food. Experts from EFSA’s Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain (CONTAM) reconfirmed previous evaluations that acrylamide in food potentially increases the risk of developing cancer for consumers in all age groups.

Evidence from animal studies shows that acrylamide and its metabolite glycidamide are genotoxic and carcinogenic: they damage DNA and cause cancer. Evidence from human studies that dietary exposure to acrylamide causes cancer is currently limited and inconclusive.

Since acrylamide is present in a wide range of everyday foods, this health concern applies to all consumers but children are the most exposed age group on a body weight basis. The most important food groups contributing to acrylamide exposure are fried potato products, coffee, biscuits, crackers, crisp bread and soft bread.

EFSA prepared a non-technical summary of its scientific opinion for ease of understanding.

Publication of the opinion followed an extensive public consultation process that helped EFSA’s experts to fine-tune their scientific opinion and integrate recent studies (up to March 2015) into the final scientific opinion.

EFSA’s scientific advice will inform EU and national decision-makers when weighing up possible measures for further reducing consumer exposure to acrylamide in food. These may include, for example, advice on eating habits and home-cooking, or controls on commercial food production; however, EFSA plays no direct role in deciding such measures.

2015 – EFSA publishes its first full risk assessment of acrylamide in food, which experts conclude potentially increases the risk of developing cancer for consumers in all age groups.

2014 – Together with national partners in the Member States, EFSA published an infographic on acrylamide in food to help increase awareness about this issue. The infographic explains how acrylamide forms and in which foods, and includes basic tips provided by national authorities on reducing acrylamide exposure in the diet.

2014 – EFSA provisionally completed its full risk assessment and publicly consulted on its draft scientific opinion. The Authority held a follow up meeting with stakeholders to discuss feedback received during the online consultation.

2013 – EFSA accepted a request from the European Commission to provide a scientific opinion on the potential risks for human health of acrylamide in food. 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 also updated its European exposure assessment (last carried out in 2011) based on more recent data on acrylamide levels in food.

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 on-going and recent research related to acrylamide in food.

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.

2009-2012 – EFSA published four consecutive reports on acrylamide levels in food, comparing data from 2007 to 2010 over the series. The reports generally did not reveal any considerable differences from previous years in the levels of acrylamide in most food categories assessed. In the 2011 edition, EFSA also estimated consumer exposure for the different age groups, which were comparable with those previously reported for European countries.

2008 - EFSA hosted scientists from across the globe to discuss acrylamide in food toxicity and dietary exposure at its Scientific Colloquium 11: “Acrylamide carcinogenicity - New evidence in relation to dietary exposure”.

2005 - EFSA published a statement on acrylamide in food, agreeing with the principal conclusions and recommendations of the United Nations Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) that dietary exposure levels to acrylamide may indicate a human health concern.

EFSA provides independent scientific advice to risk managers on acrylamide in food. EFSA’s comprehensive assessment of the risks to public health from acrylamide in food was published in 2015. This work allows EU decision-makers to take account of the latest scientific findings in managing possible risks associated with the presence of acrylamide in food.

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 and to estimate consumer exposure to this contaminant.

In 2002, the European Commission’s former Scientific Committee on Food (SCF) published a scientific opinion on new findings related to the presence of acrylamide in food. The SCF concluded that there was insufficient information available at that time to determine the actual risk from exposure to acrylamide in food.

In 2005, an EFSA statement noted that there may be a potential health concern with acrylamide which is known to be both carcinogenic and genotoxic in test animals. The statement endorsed the conclusions and recommendations of a previous risk assessment on acrylamide carried out by the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA). In this assessment, JECFA concluded that acrylamide may indicate a human health concern and that efforts should be made to reduce exposure.

Following a recommendation from the European Commission in 2007, Member States were requested to perform a three-year monitoring of acrylamide levels and submit data to EFSA. In 2010, the Commission recommended that Member States should continue annual monitoring. Since 2011, Member States are recommended to carry out investigations in cases where the levels of acrylamide in food exceed the prescribed indicative values.

Completed work
E.g., 09/01/2015
E.g., 09/01/2015

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