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Perspective on Acrylamide

Since acrylamide was first discovered in food in 2002, scientists, regulators and industry leaders in the U.S., Europe and Canada have conducted research to better understand and mitigate its formation during food processing and preparation. Learn more about the latest studies and other information related to acrylamide:

 

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) launched a public consultation on its draft Scientific Opinion on acrylamide in food - July 2014

On July 1, 2014, EFSA launched a public consultation on its draft scientific opinion on acrylamide in food, developed by the Authority's expert Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain (CONTAM). Scientists and other interested parties had the option to comment on the draft opinion through an online public consultation until 15 September. Members of the CONTAM Panel discussed these comments together with the contributors to the online public consultation at a public meeting that was held on 10 December in Brussels. EFSA noted the consultation ensures that the widest possible range of scientific views and information are considered before EFSA's experts finalize their opinion of acrylamide in food.

According to EFSA's draft opinion of 2014, the authority concluded that acrylamide in food leads to an increase in the risk of developing cancer for consumers in all age groups. During the recent meeting Chair of EFSA's panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain (CONTAM) Diane Benford said: "We may look to better explain our assessment of the possible health effects especially in relation to studies involving humans. Further clarification of our dietary exposure estimation and the breakdown and reporting of food categories could also be helpful."

EFSA is expected to finalize their opinion of acrylamide in food in the first half of 2015.

Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School study finds acrylamide intake may not increase risk of ovarian cancer - February 2013

A study, "Acrylamide hemoglobin adduct levels and ovarian cancer risk: a nested case-control study," published in the American Association for Cancer Research journal, examined the associations between dietary acrylamide intake and ovarian cancer risk. Researchers, from the Harvard School of Public Health and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, measured acrylamide exposure using red blood cell hemoglobin adducts (acrylamide and glycidamide) among women in two large prospective cohorts. Utilizing logistic regression models, and adjusting for various factors (family history, BMI, tubal ligation, etc.), researchers found no evidence that acrylamide exposure, as measured by adducts to hemoglobin, is associated with an increased risk of ovarian cancer.

Institute of Food Science & Technology published ‘information statement’ on dietary acrylamide – October 2012

The UK-based Institute of Food Science & Technology (IFST), an independent qualifying body for European food professionals, released a peer reviewed ‘information statement’ on acrylamide in foods. The 12-page report provides scientifically based information on dietary acrylamide from a wide range of resources including the European Commission, US FDA, Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), FoodDrinkEurope, and various academic studies. 

FoodDrinkEurope Publishes Five Revised Pamphlets on Latest Tools to Mitigate Acrylamide Formation – June 4, 2012

FoodDrinkEurope, the trade association representing Europe's food and drink industry, today published five revised pamphlets setting out the latest tools to help industry mitigate acrylamide formation in certain food products. The new pamphlets follow up on the update of FoodDrinkEurope's Acrylamide Toolbox released in September 2011.

The revised pamphlets cover five food sectors including biscuits, crackers and crisps, bread products, breakfast cereals, and fried potato products. They are updated to include background on the ALARA ('as low as reasonably achievable') concept, an improved structure and more user-friendly design, and an introduction to new mitigation tools that have proven successful on an industrial scale.

New Study Examines Impact of Dietary Acrylamide – April 8, 2012

The European Journal of Cancer Prevention published a study on the association between dietary acrylamide intake and cancer conducted by researchers at the International Epidemiology Institute in Rockville, Maryland, the Department of Medicine at Vanderbilt University and Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center in Nashville, Tennessee. The study presented a critical, qualitative review of 15 epidemiologic studies of dietary acrylamide intake and cancer using data and research that had been compiled since the discovery of acrylamide in food. The collective evidence suggested that a high level of dietary acrylamide intake is not a risk factor for breast, endometrial, or ovarian cancers. The absence of a positive association between smoking and ovarian and endometrial cancers suggested that any association with the much lower, more sporadic dietary acrylamide intake and the risk of these cancers is very low. In conclusion, the study found "no consistent or credible evidence that dietary acrylamide increases the risk of any type of cancer in humans."

FoodDrinkEurope Updates Industry-Wide Acrylamide Toolbox – September 30, 2011

FoodDrinkEurope, the trade association representing Europe’s food and drink industry, today released an updated Acrylamide Toolbox. Today’s update is representative of successful worldwide efforts by food and drink manufacturers as well as regulators to work together to identify tangible ways to reduce the presence of acrylamide in food.

The organization’s Acrylamide Toolbox is a valuable resource for food and drink manufacturers around the globe working to identify all possible ways to mitigate the presence of acrylamide in their products. The Toolbox, which was developed with input from industry and in collaboration with European regulators, includes the latest scientific research along with feedback from food operators.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association, together with our members, contributed to the update.

Updates to the Acrylamide Toolbox include:

  • The latest in scientific publications and updates on specific projects.
  • A restructuring of the Toolbox around ingredient types commonly associated with the risk of higher acrylamide formation.
  • A new category focused on select infant foods.
  • Clearer alignment with the Codex Alimentarius Code of Practice for the reduction of acrylamide in foods (CAC/RCP 67-2009), ensuring global alignment for food operators.
  • A revised ‘Summary’ section, which better describes the new structure of the Toolbox by Product Category.
  • Text on the ALARA (‘as low as reasonably achievable’) concept.

In addition to this resource, FoodDrinkEurope, in collaboration with the European Commission, will also release updated Acrylamide Pamphlets for several major food categories.

Overall Acrylamide Levels Lower – Though Few New Insights After Eight Years Of Study - June 16, 2010

Recently released international reports on dietary acrylamide continue to provide more information to help governments, scientists, the food industry and consumers understand acrylamide. The Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) published a short report on dietary acrylamide after its February meeting in Rome, Italy. More recently in mid-May, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) released the results of its ongoing acrylamide monitoring program. Both reports contain few surprises for those who have been following the issue closely – essentially, overall acrylamide levels are lower in many food products and more research is needed.

The first time JECFA studied acrylamide in 2005 was barely three years after the substance had first been discovered in foods. At that time, all that was known about the human health effects of acrylamide had been focused on industrial exposure – levels hundreds and thousands of times above those found in food.

It was therefore unsurprising that the first JECFA report on dietary acrylamide suggested that much more research was needed, both toxicological and epidemiological, and that industry should make efforts to reduce the amount of dietary acrylamide in processed foods as a precautionary measure.

Since then, research into the health effects of dietary acrylamide has been significant, with more than a dozen epidemiological studies on the issue published in the last two years alone. While these studies continue to find little or no evidence of negative health effects, JECFA and other governmental bodies suggest more research will be needed before it is possible to draw definitive conclusions about the health effects of dietary acrylamide in humans.

Despite the numerous studies failing to draw a link between dietary acrylamide and human health effects, significant efforts have been made by industry in cooperation with governments to reduce levels in certain foods. In some cases, manufacturers have retooled entire production lines and made major changes to their production processes, including the sourcing of raw materials. In the case of dough-based foods, many companies have begun to use the enzyme asparaginase in their products to significantly reduce acrylamide levels.

The May release of the EFSA report on its acrylamide monitoring across 23 European states notes the preliminary success of these reduction efforts. In its second report in a three year monitoring program, the agency noted, “Overall, reported acrylamide levels seemed to be lower in 2008 than 2007.” Food categories covered by the monitoring program included bread, french fries, breakfast cereals, potato chips, biscuits, roasted coffee, and jarred baby foods. More clarity on the overall trend towards reduced acrylamide levels as a result of industry reduction efforts is expected as the monitoring program continues and industry has more time to implement best practices.

Having put this much effort into understanding, assessing, and managing dietary acrylamide, researchers, regulators, and industry alike were looking forward to JECFA’s evaluation. In the end, the 2010 JECFA report on dietary acrylamide confirmed what most researchers had suggested: there continues to be insufficient data to conclusively state whether or not dietary acrylamide at levels found in the normal human diet poses a health risk. While this may not be the reassurance many have been waiting for, it should also be noted that JECFA saw no reason to change its assessment on the health effects of dietary acrylamide, or to call for regulation from government bodies.

One of the most interesting observations in the JECFA report was that despite the significant and often very effective efforts by industry to reduce acrylamide levels in processed foods, overall exposure levels around the world seem not to have declined. The main reason for this is that exposure to dietary acrylamide comes from a wide range of food sources, whether prepared at home, in restaurants or in manufacturing facilities. In addition, as the EFSA report notes, the acrylamide levels of some food categories are inherently difficult to reduce as effective mitigation methods have not been identified.

In short, the good news is that (1) there seems to be little evidence to date indicating that dietary acrylamide is an actual health risk for consumers, (2) proactive industry reduction efforts have shown preliminary success, and (3) research is continuing to further investigate the matter.

New Research Explores Impact of Dietary Acrylamide - January 14, 2010

January 14, 2010 - In December, the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology published new research that contributes to the growing body of scientific knowledge on dietary acrylamide. Of note, this peer-reviewed research, which was sponsored by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, explores the relationship between the way humans metabolize and detoxify dietary acrylamide and what cancer risks may be posed by acrylamide in the diet. (To date, much of the research assessing risk has looked at the impacts of acrylamide on rats under laboratory conditions.  When using rat data in human risk assessments, the standard approach is to assume that humans convert more acrylamide into a toxic substance than lab rats do.  This work indicates that assumption is not correct, and so the human risk from acrylamide is lower than previously thought.)

Based on the researchers’ approach, they found that the amount of acrylamide consumed from food is unlikely to result in health effects – in line with several other recent studies exploring the potential impact of dietary acrylamide.

This study is part of an ongoing effort to better understand acrylamide since it was discovered in food in 2002.  Scientists, industry, and government continue to improve their understanding of the possible impacts of acrylamide in food.  We welcome continued research into this important area and remain committed to ongoing efforts to understand how acrylamide forms, its potential impacts, and mitigation practices to reduce its formation.

CDC Releases Acrylamide Exposure Study - December 2, 2009

December 2, 2009 - The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently published an analysis of human exposure to acrylamide in the United States. The research is based on data gained from NHANES (the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey), one of the largest and most systematic long-term studies examining the health of Americans. Among other things, it discovered that between 97.5% and 99.9% of Americans are exposed to acrylamide, and that levels in smokers are nearly twice as high as among non-smokers. However, the study did not examine the links between acrylamide and sources of exposure other than smoking, such as diet, and used data from 2003 and 2004 only.

The CDC review is one of a handful of new information and reports to be released by government agencies in the near future.  Sometime in the coming months, the National Toxicology Program (NTP) will release data from its systematic animal study on the health effects of acrylamide. This study is part of the FDA’s Action Plan for Acrylamide in Food, initiated in March 2004. 

In Canada, Health Canada is expected to update its Risk Assessment of Dietary Acrylamide, including very recent monitoring data on dietary acrylamide among Canadians and more details on which foods contribute the most to dietary acrylamide exposure.

Finally, in February 2010, the Joint FAO-WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) is slated to update its previous risk assessment of dietary acrylamide, to take into consideration the hundreds of studies that have advanced understanding of acrylamide in the past 5 years.

The release of these new studies and their data are expected to contribute to a better understanding of acrylamide and the risks it may pose to human health.  Based on these assessments, regulatory authorities will determine the best means of managing any discovered risks and communicating them to consumers.

The Recent Science is Encouraging - June 16, 2009

June 16, 2009 - Since the discovery of acrylamide’s presence in food in 2002, scientists around the world working in institutions and for government health agencies have been conducting numerous studies on its potential effects given its presence in our diets (it can be found in roughly 40% of the foods in the typical American diet).  In the 1980s, studies related to worker exposure to acrylamide were performed on rats and did raise concern about the health effects, but these studies tested acrylamide at levels of exposure that is way beyond what is experienced by people.

For those who have been waiting anxiously for real-world people studies, there has been good news from several studies published this year that looked at breast, prostate, colorectal, bladder, brain, lung and endometrial cancer and found no link to the presence of acrylamide in the diet.

These aren’t small studies and they were conducted by well-respected researchers from both Harvard University and the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden where scientists first discovered acrylamide.  One Harvard study on breast cancer was comprised of over 90,000 women and found that the acrylamide associated with normal dietary intake had no impact on whether or not these women developed breast cancer (which confirms results from a second breast cancer study involving 60,000 women in Sweden). Nor were these same researchers able to find any evidence of a cause of colorectal cancer in men. Both the Harvard and Swedish researchers also collaborated on a study to check prostate cancer rates and acrylamide intake and again found no link.

While further studies continue, it is important to take note where the bulk of evidence is leading – and in this case, it is leading to welcome news. For further reading, the Journal of the National Cancer Institute just published a commentary piece by the researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health and Karolinska Institutet summarizing many of the recent studies.

American Journal of Clinical Nutrition Study Misses the Mark - June 12, 2009

american journal of clinical nutrition June 12, 2009 - A recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded that “chronic ingestion of acrylamide-containing products induces a pro-inflammatory state, a risk factor for progression of atherosclerosis.” It is this kind of study that can raise alarm among consumers yet, at the same time, resolve little for scientists or regulators. For a number of reasons, the size and scope of this study were sufficient only to raise questions – not to draw meaningful conclusions. First and foremost, the study included only 14 people, six of whom smoke more than 20 cigarettes a day, and did so during the study period. From such a small number of people with almost half being smokers, it is impossible to draw any conclusions. Cigarette smoke is a leading contributor of acrylamide exposure.

Secondly, the title of the study suggests that participants had a "chronic intake" of potato chips. However, the study is later described in the text as "being performed under conditions of an acute experiment." One can't have it both ways.

Thirdly, the acrylamide ingestion by the study subjects was far in excess of anything approaching a normal intake – it was about five bags of potato chips per day, every day for four weeks.  The fact is that many substances consumed in a balanced fashion become potentially troublesome if consumed out of balance.

And lastly, perhaps most importantly, the study authors draw conclusions based on their findings but fail to establish any causal link between what they observed and what they were seeking to demonstrate.  That isn’t science; that’s guessing. If a company seeking the approval of a product submitted a study to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration conducted under similar conditions, it most certainly would not be approved. Clinical studies demonstrating benefit need to be well designed and well controlled. Studies that claim to demonstrate risk also have such a responsibility.