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BgVV - Expert talks on the occurrence of acrylamide in foods

13/2002, 15.05.2002

"Considerable efforts will have to be made by industry, scientific circles and public authorities in order to be able assess and minimise the risk to consumers from acrylamide within an acceptable period of time", commented Dr. Dieter Arnold, Director of the Federal Institute for Health Protection of Consumers and Veterinary Medicine (BgVV), in conjunction with the Expert Meeting on the occurrence of acrylamide in certain foods. "We expect in particular from industry an explanation of the factors leading to the formation of this substance during the processing of specific foods. Only on this basis will it be possible to minimise the levels of this substance in foods and, by extension, the risk to consumers."

On 24 April 2002 the Swedish National Food Administration posted research findings about the occurrence of acrylamide in foods on the EU Rapid Alert System for Food (cf. BgVV Press Release 10/2002).

In studies at the University of Stockholm acrylamide levels of 30µg/kg up to more than 2000 µg/kg were measured in foods which had been fried, oven-baked or deep-fried. This is what prompted the Federal Institute for Health Protection of Consumers and Veterinary Medicine (BgVV) to stage an Expert Meeting on 14 May 2002. The attending experts were asked to provide the information needed to permit comprehensive risk assessment of the situation.

Before the question of the detection of acrylamide in foods can be clarified, the analytical methods used have to be described in a comprehensible manner. A direct request to the Swedish authority failed to produce the necessary information. Whereas methods for the detection of acrylamide in water have been used for some time, experts believe that the preparation of a validated detection method for foods will take some time. Some promising attempts are already underway. A validated detection method is, however, the first step which is required in order to clarify the situation. BgVV will, therefore, give utmost priority to efforts to develop and validate analytical methods.

Given the lack of measurements, it is still unclear whether Germany, too, can expect to find acrylamide in starch-containing foods which are fried, oven-baked or deep-fried. Here, too, it is mainly the responsibility of the food manufacturing industry to obtain and make available data.

Furthermore, BgVV has offered to participate in the discussion of representative sampling plans of the Control Authorities of the federal states under the aegis of the newly founded Federal Agency for Consumer Protection and Food Safety.

On the basis of the study results available up to now, the Swedish National Food Administration assumes that acrylamide is formed in carbohydrate-rich foods at high temperatures. No validated data are available as yet about the mechanism of formation. At the expert hearing it was only possible to discuss reaction paths and mechanisms. This is where the food manufacturing industry and the competent research institutes in particular must step in to examine the influence of those technical processes used in food production which seemed to be particularly compromised in the Swedish study.

Acrylamide leads to mutations in both in vitro and animal experiments. In a series of studies genotoxic effects in somatic cells and inherited germ cell mutations were detected. Carcinogenicity studies in animals have shown that acrylamide is indeed carcinogenic. It increases the incidence of tumours in several organs. Hence, acrylamide is to be classified as a mutagenic and carcinogenic substance of relevance for man. Even if the findings of the animal experiment may seem to point to a mechanism other than the genotoxic one as being responsible for tumour formation, the experts still do not feel it is appropriate to ignore this mechanism. Despite the genotoxic mechanism, experts were all of the opinion that a non-linear relationship between the dose and the observed carcinogenic effect can be assumed.

Besides the need to examine the acrylamide contamination of foods in Germany, the experts share the opinion of BgVV that up-to-date data about the consumption of the relevant foods are needed in order to improve the assessment of the amounts of acrylamide taken up by the population from food. Here, too, it is first and foremost the companies which manufacture the foods which are called on to make their data available. Discussion has revealed just how necessary the new survey of food consumption in Germany announced by Minister Künast actually is.

Given the concern about the potential toxic effects of acrymalide, the data required for comprehensive risk assessment should be collected and made available as soon as possible. Aside from this recommendation to improve the data situation, no other recommendations are at present possible on risk reduction (e.g. changes in eating habits). This opinion is shared by the experts.

WHO has announced a consultation concerning the health consequences of acrylamide in foods from 25 to 27 June 2002. If this consultation brings to light new data, it will be examined whether BgVV could submit further proposals for risk management.


Press information

Date Title Keywords
Swedes detect acrylamide in foods


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