A new report published by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) on acrylamide levels in food reveals that although soft bread and biscuits were identified as major contributors, a longer-term approach needs to be taken to assess trends.

Soft bread was identified as a major contributor of acrylamide in the diets of adults, while biscuits were identified as major contributors in adolescents and children. Acrylamide, a chemical compound that forms during baking, has been linked to cancer.

Based solely on the information provided by Member States, and Norway, from 2007 to 2009, EFSA identified that acrylamide levels had decreased in crackers, infant biscuits and gingerbread over the three years, increased in crispbread, and showed no significant changes in a number of food groups, including "bread not specified". But it said that, to detect clear statistical trends, the number of years covered should be extended.

As in previous reports, it was noted that voluntary measures developed by industry to reduce acrylamide levels, the so-called "toolbox" approach, has had limited success, adding that "it would be desirable to further reduce acrylamide levels in food groups that contribute the most to acrylamide exposure".

The report also referenced earlier research (Claus et al 2008), which demonstrated that the surface application of cysteine to the dough of wheat bread and bread rolls prior to baking showed acrylamide lowering potential, and that the mixing of cysteine into the dough led to remarkably lower acrylamide levels in the finished product.

Stan Cauvain, director of bakery consultancy BakeTran, said that, in general, the trend for soft bread, as opposed to crispbread, products remained unclear. "Bakers should remain aware of the issues around acrylamide and as a general principle seek to limit levels of acrylamide in their products where possible, but should not at this stage be overly concerned about the report findings," said Cauvain.