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Acrylamide and food

(April 2014)

What is acrylamide?

Acrylamide is a chemical that can form when certain starchy foods are cooked or processed.
While there’s no direct evidence that acrylamide can cause cancer in humans, there is evidence it can cause cancer in laboratory animals. Read more about this evidence.
Therefore, FSANZ believes that it is prudent to reduce our exposure to acrylamide in food.

How are Australians and New Zealanders exposed to acrylamide?

Acrylamide has been detected in a range of foods including fried or roasted potato products, coffee, and cereal-based products (including sweet biscuits and toasted bread).
Estimated dietary exposures of Australian consumers to acrylamide in food were investigated as a part of the first phase of the 24th Australian Total Diet Study. The study found that the levels of acrylamide were generally lower than, or comparable to, those reported in previous Australian and international studies.
However, the estimated dietary exposures of Australian consumers were in the range of those considered to be of possible concern to human health by the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives.
The New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has reassessed dietary exposure with a survey of foods contributing to acrylamide intakes in New Zealand. The ministry updated its survey in January 2012. The survey found that dietary exposure estimates have remained fairly constant since a previous survey in 2006. Download a copy of the survey: Acrylamide in New Zealand food and updated exposure assessment (pdf 934 kb).

What is being done to reduce acrylamide levels in food?

International food regulators are working with industry to reduce acrylamide levels. New farming and processing techniques are being investigated to produce lower levels of acrylamide, for example, lowering cooking temperatures, using enzymes that reduce acrylamide formation and obtaining raw materials with lower reducing sugar levels. However, reducing acrylamide in some foods, such as coffee, is difficult without changing its taste.
We are also encouraging and supporting industry to use enzymes that reduce acrylamide formation and urging industry to adopt an “acrylamide toolbox” produced by Food and Drink Europe. A Codex working group is creating a Code of Practice for reducing acrylamide in food and FSANZ and MPI have contributed.

How can I eat less acrylamide?

  • Always follow the manufacturer’s cooking instructions – many of them have adjusted their instructions to reduce acrylamide levels in their foods.
  • Cook potato chips to a light golden colour and use maximum temperatures of 175 ºC when deep frying and 230ºC when baking.
  • Don’t store potatoes at temperatures below 8ºC because this can increase the components that prompt acrylamide formation.
  • Wash or soak vegetables for several minutes before frying – this can reduce the components that prompt acrylamide formation.
  • Toast bread or other foods to the lightest colour acceptable to your taste, noting that the crust will have higher levels of acrylamide.

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