Following a request from the European Commission, the European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA) Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain (CONTAM Panel) has reconfirmed previous evaluations that acrylamide in food potentially increases the risk of developing cancer for consumers in all age groups. The findings have not changed since the draft opinion was made available for an open public consultation in July 2014.
Acrylamide is a chemical that can form in some starchy foods during certain types of high-temperature cooking, such as frying, roasting and baking. 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 in food, such as French fries, coffee, cookies, crackers and breads, is a concern because its has been deemed a substance “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen." Evidence from animal studies shows acrylamide and its metabolite glycidamide are genotoxic and carcinogenic, which damage DNA and cause cancer. Evidence from human studies that dietary exposure to acrylamide causes cancer is currently limited and inconclusive.
In 2013, FDA issued draft guidance for the food industry to help growers, manufacturers and foodservice operators take steps to reduce levels of acrylamide in certain foods. Efforts to reduce acrylamide levels are already underway in many sectors throughout the food industry. In issuing the draft guidance, FDA sought to support industry sectors that have taken a wait-and-see approach, and to help all companies—particularly smaller ones with fewer resources—reduce acrylamide in products susceptible to its formation.
Following ingestion, acrylamide is absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract, distributed to all organs and extensively metabolized. Glycidamide is one of the main metabolites resulting from this process and the most likely cause of the gene mutations and tumors seen in animal studies. In addition to cancer, the panel considered possible harmful effects of acrylamide on the nervous system, pre- and post-natal development and male reproduction. These effects were not considered to be a concern, based on current levels of dietary exposure.
Although not the focus of EFSA’s risk assessment, the scientific opinion includes an overview of data and literature summarizing how the choice of ingredients, the storage method and the temperature at which food is cooked can influence the amount of acrylamide in different food types and therefore the level of dietary exposure. 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.