Acrylamide and food
What is acrylamide?
Acrylamide is a chemical that can form in starchy foods during cooking. In 2010 a joint Food and Agriculture Organization and World Health Organization expert committee determined there was evidence that acrylamide could cause cancer in laboratory animals.
There is no direct evidence acrylamide causes cancer in humans but food regulators, including FSANZ, agree that we should reduce our exposure.
How are Australians and New Zealanders exposed to acrylamide?
The major foods in which acrylamide have been detected include fried or roasted potato products, coffee, and cereal-based products (including sweet biscuits and toasted bread).
Australians and New Zealanders are most likely to be exposed to acrylamide in hot potato chips, potato crisps, coffee, toast, sweet plain biscuits and wheat biscuit-style breakfast cereals.
What is being done to reduce acrylamide levels in food?
New farming and processing techniques are being investigated to produce lower levels of acrylamide, e.g. 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.
FSANZ will continue to assess consumers’ dietary exposure and find out which foods are currently the biggest contributors to acrylamide intakes via the next Australian Total Diet Survey. 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. FSANZ and the New Zealand Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (NZMAF) have participated in a Codex working group to create a Code of Practice for reducing acrylamide in food.
International food regulators are working with industry to reduce acrylamide levels. The New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries is also reassessing dietary exposure with a survey of foods contributing to acrylamide intakes in New Zealand. The ministry updated its survey in January 2012. Download a copy of the survey: Acrylamide in New Zealand food and updated exposure assessment (pdf 934 kb).
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.