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06/12/2016

EU food agency says acrylamide is a health concern

Health & Consumers

EU food agency says acrylamide is a health concern

Acrylamide, found in for example bread and cakes, poses a health concern, says EFSA. [Shutterstock]

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) says acrylamide in food potentially increases the risk of developing cancer for consumers in all age groups. The authority has launched a public consultation on its draft scientific opinion about the substance.

Acrylamide is a chemical compound that typically forms in starchy food products such as potato crisps, chips, bread, biscuits and coffee, during high-temperature processing (above 150°), including frying, baking and roasting.

EFSA says that children, due to their lower body weight, are the most exposed age group and European and national authorities already recommend reducing acrylamide in food as much as possible.

Acrylamide has previously been linked to cancer. In 2002, Swedish researchers found the compound by coincidence and had a strong suspicion that acrylamide was a carcinogenic agent.

But EFSA acknowledges that acrylamide could potentially also have a harmful impact on the nervous system, pre- and post-natal development and male reproduction.

Until 15 September, scientists and other interested parties can comment on the draft opinion through an online public consultation. Before finalising the scientific opinion, members of EFSA’s Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain (CONTAM) will discuss the feedback with the contributors to the online public consultation at the end of the year.

The deadline for final adoption of the opinion will be June 2015.

“Once finalised, EFSA’s scientific advice will support European and national decision-makers to consider possible measures to further reduce consumer exposure to this substance 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,” the EU’s food safety agency said in a statement.

Background

Cooking food at high temperatures, for example grilling or barbecuing meats, can lead to the formation of minute quantities of many potent carcinogens that are comparable to those found in cigarette smoke.

Reports from the UK's Food Standards Agency have found that the known animal carcinogen acrylamide is generated in fried or overheated carbohydrate foods (such as crisps and chips).

Studies are underway at the European regulatory agencies and the FDA to assess its potential risk to humans.

Timeline

  • 15 Sept.: Deadline for scientists and other interested parties to comment on EFSA's draft opinion.
  • June 2015: Deadline for final adoption of the opinion.

Further Reading

EU agency