Acrylamide – the hot topic consumers don’t know about

Consumers are largely unaware of acrylamide and its potential effects, with only around one in five having heard of the contaminant.

Acrylamide is generated when the sugar and amino acids in starchy foods transform during heating. The changes enhance the taste of the cooked food and will often give it a brownish colour. However, the European Food Safety Authority has found that the substance “potentially increases the risk of developing cancer for consumers in all age groups”.

Amongst the 500 consumers from France, Germany, the US and UK that were quizzed by ingredients supplier Royal DSM, 22% had heard of acrylamide. However, the results were skewed by high awareness amongst Germans (54%).

Of those that knew about acrylamide, 70% were concerned about its potential effects on their health. And once others were made of the facts, 64% said they would adjust their cooking behaviour accordingly.

However, only 25% said the onus should be on them to change. Almost half (47%) said food producers were most responsible for lowering acrylamide levels, whilst the rest (28%) said it was up to governments and legislators.

In April, new regulations were introduced that require catering companies and manufacturers to undertake measures to reduce levels of acrylamide in some of the foods they serve. French fries, crisps, bread, biscuits, breakfast cereals and coffee are all included in the rules.

In June, the Food Standards Agency published its latest report on acrylamide and furans (which, like acrylamide, are also produced naturally during cooking). “The levels of acrylamide and furans obtained over the period of January 2017 to December 2017 do not increase our concern about the risk to human health,” FSA said.

In California, there’s an ongoing court battle about whether coffee should come with a health warning due to the presence of acrylamide.

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