Acrylamide first came onto the health and safety agenda in 2002 when scientists at the Swedish Food Administration reported unexpectedly high levels of acrylamide in carbohydrate-rich foods and published evidence linking the chemical to cancer in laboratory rats.
The chemical is not added to foods but is produced when starchy foods are cooked at high temperatures. It is formed by a reaction, known as the Maillard effect, between sugar and an amino acid called asparagine, which creates the brown color and tasty flavor of baked, fried and toasted foods.
Food manufacturers have come under consumer pressure to come up with ways to cut levels of acrylamide in these foods, but now in Canada, the pressure is coming from government.
Having added acrylamide to its toxic list, Health Canada will be pursing a three-pronged strategy to reduce exposure to the substance from food sources.
It will press the food industry to develop effective ways of reducing the presence of acrylamide in food and will coordinate with food regulators abroad on risk management. The government body also promised to provide consumers with regularly updated advice.
The decision to add acrylamide to the toxic list comes despite a large number of studies being published since the 2002 Swedish study finding no cancer link. Most recently, scientists at Maastricht University in the Netherlands published a study this spring in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Preventionintakes finding no link between acrylamide and brain cancer.
Nevertheless, Derek Nighbor, a spokesperson for Food and Consumer Products of Canada (FCPC) said there was still a need for further research to understand the health effects of acrylamide.
Over the past few years, aware of consumer concerns and the inconclisive nature of current research, food manufacturers have been making efforts to remove or reduce the chemical in their products.
Most attention in the past two years for reducing the chemical has focused on the use of enzymes to convert asparagine into another amino acid called aspartic acid, thereby preventing the creation of acrylamide. There are two main competitors in this area: Novozymes with its Acrylaway enzyme, and DSM’s Preventase, both of which were launched for use in 2007.
Nighbor said FCPC would be working with government to develop guidance documents to make food companies aware of all the tools at their disposal to reduce levels of Acrylamide.
The inclusion of the chemical on Health Canada’s toxic list is part of the Canadian government’s ongoing review of nearly two hundred chemical substances in widespread commercial use that have never before been subjected to thorough risk analysis.