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WHO: public health concern on acrylamide in food

In 2002, Swedish studies showed for the first time the unintentional formation of relatively high levels of acrylamide during the frying or baking of potatoes and cereal products ( at temperatures higher than 120 °C ).

The Joint FAO-WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives and Contaminants ( JECFA ) concluded that, on the basis of the tests in animals, cancer was the most important toxic effect of acrylamide and that consumption of foods with this contaminant at current levels of occurrence may be a public health concern.

The conclusion was based on a conservative evaluation, according to the Committee, which noted that there is still considerable uncertainty about the mechanism of the toxicity of acrylamide.

Acrylamide is formed when certain foods, particularly plant-based foods that are rich in carbohydrates and low in protein, are cooked at high temperatures such as in frying, roasting or baking, generally at temperatures higher that 120 degrees Celsius.

The major foods contributing to acrylamide exposure in countries for which data were available are potato chips and crisps, coffee and cereal-based products ( pastries and sweet biscuits, breads, rolls and toast ).

The amount of acrylamide can vary dramatically in the same foods depending on several factors, including cooking temperature and time.
Because of this, JECFA experts said that it was not possible to issue recommendations on how much of any specific food containing the substance is safe to eat.

The food industry has reported that it is evaluating means to reduce acrylamide levels in various foods.

Based on this evaluation FAO and WHO recommend that efforts to reduce acrylamide levels in foodstuffs should continue.
National food safety authorities should urge relevant food industries to work towards improving food preparation technologies that lower significantly the acrylamide content in critical foods, particularly potato chips and crisps ( French fries and potato chips, respectively ), coffee, pastries, sweet biscuits ( cookies ), breads, rolls and toasts.

Consumers should continue to eat balanced and varied diets, which include plenty of fruit and vegetables, and to moderate their consumption of fried and fatty foods.

Source : WHO, 2005