Reducing Acrylamide in Food Processing

Fish and chips
The reduction of acrylamide, a carcinogen that is formed naturally in some foods when heated, is a growing concern for manufacturers
KerryDigest Fast Facts:
  • Acrylamide is formed naturally in carbohydrate-rich foods that are cooked (baked, roasted, fried, toasted, etc.) at temperatures above 120°C (248°F).
  • Because of acrylamide’s categorization as a carcinogen and neurotoxin, there’s growing consumer and regulatory pressure on the industry to reduce its presence in foods.
  • Process and recipe changes can help lower acrylamide levels during food processing, as can modified cooking and heating by consumers.
  • To reduce acrylamide levels in products without fundamental changes to the manufacturing processes, the industry is beginning to embrace acrylamide reducing ingredients and processing aids.

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Although scientists have for more than a decade discussed ways to reduce acrylamide in foods, new acrylamide-related legislation in the U.S. and Europe has consumers talking, too. This has made acrylamide reduction a top priority for food manufacturers. To help brands better understand the challenge, and possible solutions, we’ve assembled this brief guide on reducing acrylamide in food processing.

Acrylamide Formation in Manufacturing

In foods, acrylamide is formed naturally when carbohydrate-rich foods or ingredients—including grains, wheat, potatoes, rice and even coffee beans—are heated above 120°C (240°F). Any cooking process that raises temperatures over this threshold will cause the formation of acrylamide in the final food product, whether the cooking method is roasting, frying, toasting or baking.

When such carbohydrate-rich foods are heated over 120°C, a naturally present amino acid called asparagine reacts with the reducing sugars in starches and produces the chemical acrylamide. The total quantity of acrylamide in the final product is determined by cooking time and temperature. The longer the time and the higher the temperature at which food is cooked, the more acrylamide is formed.

Although much of a product’s acrylamide content is created during food processing, cooking at home—such as the toasting of bread or roasting of French fries—can also increase acrylamide levels, sometimes significantly. Laboratory studies of toasting unsliced bread show that “dark” toast may contain up to nine times more acrylamide than untoasted bread.

toddler eating cerealDue to their diet of cereals, biscuits, crackers, chips and toast, children past nursing age are the group believed to be receiving the most exposure to acrylamide on a day-in, day-out basisAcrylamide and Health Concerns

Due to their diet of cereals, biscuits, crackers, chips and toast, children past nursing age are the group believed to be receiving the most exposure to acrylamide on a day-in, day-out basis. According to Health Canada’s comprehensive survey of acrylamide content in a wide variety of foods, children aged one to eight ingest more than twice as much acrylamide each day, per kilogram of bodyweight, than adults aged 19 and over.

While most attention has been focused on acrylamide’s role as a carcinogen, there are also concerns about its role as a neurotoxin that can inhibit general neurological function and neurodevelopment.

Overexposure to acrylamide can cause symptoms such as nausea and tingling and prickly sensations in the extremities. It may also influence the age-related development of neurodegenerative diseases, especially when combined with other chemicals in the environment.

However, once exposure to acrylamide has ended, it’s gradually emitted from the body; at that point, neurological symptoms typically reduce or fade away.

New Acrylamide Regulations 

Some food safety authorities, such as the UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA), are initiating consumer education campaigns. For instance, the FSA’s “Go for the Gold” campaign recommends that consumers toast bread, French fries and chips to just a light golden brown colour, since a darker colour signals that more acrylamide is being formed in the cooking process.

However, expecting consumers to change their traditional cooking practices is more challenging than solving the acrylamide problem at the food manufacturing level. As a result, governments are influencing the industry via new regulations and rules.

For example, the warnings and regulations in place in the European Union, Canada and parts of the United States generally do not set a maximum level for acrylamide but instead define benchmark levels for each product group. These benchmark levels are performance indicators that can verify the effectiveness of mitigation measures undertaken by food and beverage manufacturers trying to limit acrylamide formation.

Local authorities in each member state of European Union are empowered to ask food and beverage manufacturers what they’re doing to reduce acrylamide. Companies are encouraged to adhere to the ALARA principle—"as low as is reasonably achievable”—which means that even if a product produces less acrylamide than the allowable amount, the manufacturer will be encouraged to further reduce acrylamide levels.

The list of foods being governmentally regulated for acrylamide continues to grow and consumer rel="noopener noreferrer" groups and NGOs are lobbying for the introduction of maximum acrylamide levels, too. From the International Agency for Research on Cancer to California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, the list of groups voicing concerns about acrylamide in foods and beverages is getting larger and louder.

bowls of chipsThe list of foods being governmentally regulated for acrylamide continues to grow and consumer groups and NGOs are lobbying for the introduction of maximum acrylamide levels, too.Reducing Acrylamide in Food Processing

To allay consumer and regulatory concerns, production changes such as lower cooking temperatures, shorter processing times and recipe changes can help. But most manufacturers agree that a better solution is a processing aid that, in an industrial food manufacturing setting, consistently reduces the amount of acrylamide without causing any significant changes in the production process.

Ingredient manufacturers are trialing solutions based around the breakdown of the precursor asparagine. Such acrylamide reducing ingredients work in a few different ways. For example, Kerry’s non-GMO yeast Acryleast™ is added with minimal or no changes to the production process. Acryleast has naturally elevated levels of an enzyme called asparaginase, which breaks down asparagine, thus reducing the amount available to be converted into acrylamide during cooking.

To learn more about reducing acrylamide levels in your products, contact Kerry. Our scientists and chefs can support you in achieving up to a 90% acrylamide reduction with the use of Acryleast, a non-GMO acrylamide reducing solution that doesn’t impact product taste or texture.

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