Acrylamide is a process contaminant that occurs as an unintentional byproduct of food processing or preparation. The reaction that causes acrylamide contamination is called the Maillard reaction. This is a non-enzymatic browning reaction that is triggered during the heating process. When food is heated at temperatures above 120 °C, certain amino acids (e.g. asparagine) and reducing sugars (e.g. glucose and fructose) are transformed into new compounds. The compounds that result from this browning reaction are immensely important for the sensory perception (smell, taste) of the food product, which is why they cannot simply be removed from the production process. However, the producer should take into account the fact that acrylamide intake can potentially be carcinogenic and mutagenic for the consumer.
On April 11th, 2018, the Commission Regulation (EU) 2017/2158 went into effect. The impetus for the new acrylamide regulations was provided by a risk assessment published by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in 2015. In this report, it was determined that the total intake through food consumption should be considered a public health concern, since acrylamide is present in many food products and in some cases occurs in relatively high concentrations in comparison to other suspected carcinogens. Based on the current state of research, it cannot be definitively stated to what extent acrylamide intake in the diet actually contributes to the development of cancer in humans. However, due to the potential health risk, EFSA recommended further lowering acrylamide levels in food. The resulting regulation not only established new, lower guidance values, but also determined specific, binding guidelines for minimizing acrylamide content in food products such as bread, breakfast cereals, potato chips, and baby food. The regulation provides an entire catalog of minimization measures for a variety of product groups. The minimization measures were developed by taking a critical look at various product groups and how they are processed, with the goal of achieving the lowest possible acrylamide content.
In addition to the minimization measures, the regulation also introduced the requirement that companies conduct internal inspections and maintain documentation. The type and scope of these internal inspections greatly depend on the properties of the product and how it is processed, which is why they should be determined on an individual basis by the food business operator. In addition to the obligation to maintain documentation, the regulation also states that food business operators are to provide information to the responsible authorities on an annual basis. On the basis of this obligation, the responsible food monitoring authority may also demand that food business operators provide information concerning the results of their internal acrylamide monitoring.
In the future, legal maximum levels for acrylamide in certain categories of food are going to be added to the Commission Regulation (EC) 1881/2006. A draft for this amendment, SANTE/10478/2020, has already been submitted by the European Commission. According to this draft, new maximum levels will be set for baby food and food for infants and young children. For cookies and rusks, the planned maximum level is 150 µg/kg. For other baby foods and processed cereal-based foods for infants and young children (excluding biscuits and rusks), a maximum level of 50 µg/kg is planned. These maximum levels are scheduled to go into effect on January 1st, 2021. However, if the products listed in the annex of this draft regulation were lawfully brought onto the market before January 1st, 2021, then they may continue to be sold until July 1st, 2021.
If you have any questions about the draft regulation SANTE/10478/2020 and the Commission Regulation (EU) 2017/2158, we are available to answer them as your competent business partner. We will also gladly analyze all of your relevant food products for acrylamide using LC-MS/MS technology.