Acrylamide is a natural by-product that forms when carbohydrate-rich foods such as potatoes and cereals - bread, biscuits and other bakery products - are fried, baked, or roasted at temperatures above 120°C.
It is not found in food that has not been heated, or that has been cooked using methods such as boiling or microwaving.
Since these foods have been cooked at high temperatures for hundreds of years, it is likely that acrylamide has been present in our food for many generations. The formation of acrylamide in food is a product of the Maillard reaction - the browning of food when cooking caused by a reaction of natural sugars. It is thought to form from two chemicals that occur naturally in the food - an amino acid called asparagine and certain types of sugar.
Where is acrylamide found?
Acrylamide is also found in:
- raw, dried or pickled food - such as olives, prunes and dried pears
Acrylamide has been found to cause nerve damage in people who have been accidentally exposed to it whilst at work (it is used as an industrial chemical in strengthening paper and in the clarification of water). It is also considered to be a carcinogen (cancer causing).
There are currently no regulatory limits set for acrylamide in food. However, there is a limit for the amount of acrylamide allowed to migrate from food contact plastic into food. The limit means that acrylamide should not be detectable at 0.01 milligrams per kilogram of food.
Current advice for reducing acrylamide includes:
- choosing specific varieties of raw materials - such as potatoes with a lower level of sugars
- adding asparaginase - an enzyme which reduces the production of acrylamide
- lowering the cooking temperature and reducing cooking time to reduce browning
Guidance on reducing acrylamide in food
FoodDrinkEurope has produced the acrylamide toolbox with food sector specific guidance on how to reduce acrylamide in the processing of different types of foods. This includes such as biscuits, bread, potato crisps and French fries.
The Acrylamide Infonet provides a single source of information on existing and ongoing research into the effects of acrylamide in food and links to external resources.