Acrylamide - A New Finding In Food Science

There is an incredible amount of conflicting information about the foods eaten in Western society, usually tied to the latest diet fad promising to melt kilos. When not connected to weight loss the other burning issue for consumers is health, specifically new information about foods that cause diseases such as cancer. Interestingly enough, for a population with so much information at their fingertips and such ready access to medical professionals, all current statistics are showing that the under 45s are the most unhealthy group of people in our society. There are a number of reasons proposed for that, chief among them lack of exercise relative to the amount of food consumed.

The latest find in the world of food testing is a chemical that can form in starchy foods when they are heated. The chemical is called Acrylamide and was discovered by Swedish scientists in 2002. With food science still delivering surprises such as this, it is a challenging environment for food packaging suppliers responsible for disclosing food contents to the consumer.

Acrylamide is temperature-dependent, and forms when sugars are heated with amino acids in foods such as potato chips, French fries, some cereals, toasted bread and coffee. This would not be a problem except that acrylamide has been found to cause cancer in laboratory animals, and again, this is a very recent development, coming to light at a Committee for Food Additives meeting in February 2010.

At this stage, there is no evidence to suggest that acrylamide will have the same effect on humans. However, all food agencies responsible for the regulation of additives world wide, are encouraging a reduction in acrylamide through the use of alternative technologies.
Although the human population has been consuming acrylamide in starchy foods for centuries, this new knowledge requires careful examination and scientific testing. Until final results are known, there is a concerted effort under way by the food industry to find ways of reducing acrylamide in the human diet.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) has identified the major contributors to exposure in the common foods we eat. As a result, they have approved permission to use enzymes that reduce the formation of acrylamide in the major sources in Australian diets ie. bread, potato, flour based products and cereal-based foods. They will also follow up the use of such enzymes with food manufacturers to assess their effectiveness. Packaging suppliers will also ensure that information about acrylamide is fully disclosed.

Along with other initiatives being pursued with the key industry bodies, FSANZ suggests a "common sense" approach on the part of the consumer who may be overly concerned. The best advice currently is to eat a balanced diet rich in fruit and vegetables, limit the consumption of saturated fat and moderate all fat intake, in line with current dietary recommendations.