Acrylamide – what’s all the fuss?
Acrylamide has been in the news as the Food Standards Agency (FSA) launched a campaign to raise awareness and provide advice to help people reduce their intakes.
Whilst something to be aware of, there is no reason to stop eating certain foods as a result of the advice on acrylamide. Two of the biggest risk factors for increased risk of cancer in the UK are obesity and smoking. Therefore in the context of public health, keeping a healthy weight, exercising, reducing alcohol intake and not smoking are still considered by Cancer Research UK to be the best things you can do to reduce your risk of certain cancers.
Acrylamide is a chemical that is formed in some foods that are cooked at high temperatures for long periods such as baking, frying, grilling, toasting or roasting. Examples of foods that may have higher levels of acrylamide are charred/blackened meat, burnt toast, crisps and biscuits. Acrylamide can be formed when cooking at home as well as in food manufacturing.
There are no regulatory limits agreed for acrylamide in food, but food manufacturers have done a lot of work over the past 10 years to keep acrylamide formation in foods to a minimum. At M&S we have acrylamide guidance for our suppliers making food for us and we also independently sample products throughout the year to monitor levels as do our suppliers. We take action on any products that are reported as above the “indicative values”.
But is it such a problem for public health? Studies in animals have shown that acrylamide has the potential to damage DNA inside cells and because of this it has been linked to cancer. There hasn’t been a clear and consistent link shown between acrylamide and increased risk of cancer in humans and the links with food even less established. However, because of the animal evidence both the FSA and European Food Safety Authority consider acrylamide a food safety issue and recommend that consumers keep intakes from their diet as low as possible. The FSA guidance is intended to provide practical advice for consumers to keep levels of acrylamide low in home cooking.