The level of public exposure to the cancer-inducing chemical acrylamide could be higher than previously thought, due to people ignoring manufacturer cooking instructions.
According to research by the Food Standards Agency (FSA), public knowledge of acrylamide is poor and cooking instructions are often ignored or glanced over. This undermines previous estimations of acrylamide consumption, which are based on manufacture instructions being followed.
Acrylamide forms when high-starch foods such as bread and biscuits are cooked. The concentration of the chemical increases with cooking length and temperature and the FSA advised bread should only be lightly toasted.
It has been linked to nerve and reproductive system damage as well as cancer. However, the European Food Standards Agency (EFSA) risk assessment, published 4 June, 2015, concluded concentrations in food only posed a cancer threat.
There is no legal limit for acrylamide in food, though an EU limit of 0.1 μg/L exists for drinking water. European Commission (EC) ‘indicative values’ also exist for food groups considered to contribute most to dietary acrylamide exposure to advise manufacturers on acceptable levels in their products.
The FSA said: “Reducing acrylamide levels in food will not be easy, as acrylamide forms naturally in some foods when they are cooked or heat-treated.
“There are many variables that can impact on the final level of acrylamide in a given food, ranging from crop variety, storage conditions, agronomic factors, seasonal variation and then the processing or cooking conditions.”
According to the report, acrylamide could be reduced by reducing the quantity of asparagine, an amino acid which turns into acrylamide during cooking, in food.
The FSA suggested it could take a long time to develop low-asparagine crops but that countries which allowed genetic modification have an advantage. It said the USA had already developed and passed as safe a low-acrylamide producing genetically engineered potato.
For the baking industry, reducing acrylamide in bread and toast might be made possible by asparagine-consuming strains of baker’s yeast. Canada-based Renaissance Ingredients has been selecting non-genetically engineered strains which it claims can reduce acrylamide levels in bread and toast by an average of 80%.