Bakers can sell well-fired loaves as long as they follow acrylamide mitigation steps, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has stated.

The FSA comments follow national media stories this week, which singled out Sainsbury’s for selling very dark loaves.

Some consumers prefer such bread – Sainsbury’s said its well-fired loaves are popular with customers – and well-fired morning rolls are a tradition in Scotland.

The media reports suggested such products should carry a cancer warning because of concerns over acrylamide – a chemical created when foods, particularly starchy ones like bread, are cooked for long periods at temperatures above 120˚C.

Lab tests have shown that acrylamide in the diet causes cancer in animals and, while evidence from human studies has been inconclusive, the scientific consensus is that it has the potential to cause cancer in humans.

In April this year, EU legislation came into force making it a legal requirement for food businesses to put in place practical steps to manage acrylamide.

This week, the FSA told British Baker the legislation was designed to reduce acrylamide levels where practical – but said it was accepted that the legislation “should not result in a prohibition of traditional culinary practices and/or certain traditional foods”.

“Mitigation steps should be implemented without changing the nature and characteristics of the traditional food,” an FSA spokesman explained.

“However, manufacturers would be required to demonstrate they were taking other practical steps under their food safety management system to limit acrylamide formation.”

Sainsbury’s has said the acrylamide levels of its well-fired loaves are low and well within FSA benchmark levels.

Tony Lewis, head of policy at the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, told British Baker he had no problem with well-baked loaves, but had an issue with blackened or burnt bread.

“There is a proven science that shows the build-up of acrylamide in those charred bits – and that presents a risk of cancer, albeit a small risk,” he said.

“The consumer is not necessarily aware of the science and what it means and they want some straightforward practical advice – don’t eat the blackened, very burned crusts.”

Subscribers to British Baker can read our legal advice on acrylamide legislation here.