​New EU acrylamide legislation

Acrylamide is a chemical substance formed by a reaction between amino acids and sugars, both of which are natural components of plant and plant-derived ingredients. Acrylamide is not deliberately added to foods, it is a natural by-product of the cooking process and typically occurs when foods with high starch content such as potatoes, root vegetables and bread, are cooked at high temperatures (over 120°C). High doses of acrylamide have been found to be carcinogenic in some animal studies but there is no proven correlation for humans at the concentrations found in the typical diet.

The presence of acrylamide in food was first reported in 2002 and since then attention has been focused on how this chemical is formed during heating (i.e. the Maillard Reaction). Although acrylamide cannot be completely eliminated from certain types of foods, manufacturers continue to limit the presence of acrylamide in manufacturing practices by applying measures to prevent and reduce its formation. This work has led to a new EU Regulation (Commission Regulation (EU) 2017/2158) which establishes mitigation measures and benchmark levels (currently known as indicative levels) for the reduction of the presence of acrylamide in foods.

Benchmark levels for infant formula and complementary weaning foods have been set extremely low, owing to the vulnerability of the infants who consume them. Whilst this legislation does not come into force until April 2018, manufactures of foods for infants and young children already have measures in place, and continue to develop them, to ensure that levels are as low as possible for the foods currently on the market.

When preparing foods, measures can be taken to mitigate acrylamide formation. For further information on how to minimise levels of acrylamide visit the FSA ‘Go for Gold’ page.