Acrylamide is a chemical formed primarily in baked and fried foods by a reaction known as the Maillard reaction, between sugars and the amino acid asparagine. The reaction is responsible for the golden color and tasty flavor of baked, fried and toasted foods, but in 2002 Swedish scientists reported unexpectedly high levels of acrylamide in carbohydrate-rich foods and published evidence linking the chemical to cancer in laboratory rats. Since then, international assessment and further research, although inconclusive, has generally supported the view that acrylamide in food is cause for concern.
Writing in the Federal Register, the FDA’s assistant commissioner for policy David Horowitz said that new evidence is now emerging about its potential health impacts, and this could help form the basis of new guidelines.
“FDA has not issued guidance for manufacturers on reducing acrylamide in food,” he wrote. “However, it is anticipated that new information will soon be available about the toxicology of acrylamide, which may confirm acrylamide's carcinogenicity in laboratory animals.”
The move toward industry guidelines comes as Health Canada added acrylamide to the nation’s toxic substances list last week as part of its ongoing review of over 200 chemical substances in commercial use that have never been thoroughly tested for their toxicity. It said that current consumption levels “may constitute a danger in Canada to human life or health” although it also acknowledged that research into a possible carcinogenic link for humans has so far been inconclusive.
The FDA notice said: “International efforts to develop approaches to acrylamide mitigation are also beginning to prove successful. Moreover, FDA is aware that at least some manufacturers in the United States are seeking ways to reduce acrylamide in their products. For these reasons, FDA is considering issuing guidance for industry on reduction of acrylamide levels in food products.”
In particular, the FDA has asked food manufacturers to respond with details of any manufacturing changes they have made, the success and cost-effectiveness of those changes, methods for acrylamide reduction that could be appropriate for smaller manufacturers, and changes to on-pack instructions for consumers to mitigate acrylamide formation.
The call comes despite many recent studies which have failed to find any link between the chemical and cancer, most recently a Dutch study published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, which found no link between acrylamide and brain cancer.
But on the back of consumer concern, food manufacturers have been making an effort to eliminate or reduce acrylamide content in their products over the past few years.
Successful approaches employed so far include converting asparagine, the precursor to acrylamide formation, into an impotent form using an enzyme, binding asparagine to make it inaccessible, adding amino acids, changing the pH to alter the reaction products, cutting heating temperatures and times, and removing compounds from recipes that may promote acrylamide formation.
However, 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.
The FDA’s notice and its request for comments can be accessed here.