WASHINGTON, March 10, 2016 - Don’t burn those french fries. And keep those cookies light brown.
Those are two messages from the Food and Drug Administration’s final guidance on how to reduce levels of acrylamide in food.
The chemical has been classified as a probable human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. And the United States’ National Toxicology Program says it is “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.”
Scientists first detected the presence of acrylamide in food in 2002. The substance is formed in starchy foods such as potatoes or grains when they are heated to high temperatures.
The focus since then has mostly been on potato products such as french fries and potato chips, but the guidance also includes a section on cookies, crackers, breakfast cereals, and toasted bread. Acrylamide also is found in coffee.
The final guidance is not that much different from the draft that was released for public comment in November 2013, said FDA spokesman Jason Strachman-Miller.
The final document “reflects more recent scientific publications on acrylamide mitigation and includes updated technical information on ways to mitigate acrylamide during cooking and processing,” he said.
The guidance, however, “has not changed with respect to how we characterize the health risks, and the mitigation strategies that the agency presents also are substantially consistent with those in the draft version,” he said.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest, which petitioned FDA in 2003 seeking limits on acrylamide in food, called the guidance “a welcome step,” but also said FDA “should have set binding requirements, including specific limits on the amount of acrylamide allowed in industrially produced food.”
CSPI also said “companies that have been working hard over the past decade to minimize acrylamide deserve credit.” FDA “should monitor acrylamide levels to assess compliance, and establish hard limits and requirements for shifts in processing if levels have not been reduced by the guidance.”
Consumers can minimize their exposure to acrylamide by eating a well-balanced diet, CSPI said. In addition, they “should also avoid foods like heavily toasted or burnt bread or over-cooked French fries, which have been shown to be among the foods most contaminated with acrylamide.”
The Frozen Potato Products Institute, which had said in comments on the draft guidance that there should be no specific limit, released a statement saying its member companies “continue to research strategies and deploy techniques to further reduce the formation of acrylamide in their products.”
In addition, FPPI said, “We continue to educate consumers and foodservice operators about ways to reduce acrylamide in french fries during the cooking process.
“Our members use best manufacturing practices to reduce acrylamide formation in food, including enhancing products; increasing moisture levels during processing (blanching); lowering cooking times and temperature levels during processing (par-frying); and providing specific instructions to consumers on packaging, like ‘cook to a light golden color.’ ”
Asked what “enhancing products” means, FPPI Vice President of Regulatory and Technical Affairs Sanjay Gummalla said “We are referring to a number of formulation, pre-process and process strategies that may be (used) by food manufacturers to mitigate acrylamide formation such as: using novel coatings, temperature control of frying and baking, using appropriate potato varieties, avoiding cold temperatures during transport and storage, etc.”
But for consumers and food-service workers, the message is: Use color as an endpoint when preparing baked goods, such as baking and toasting breads and other baked goods to a light brown, not a dark brown color. In general, lighter-colored bread crusts and lighter-colored cookies will have lower acrylamide levels than darker versions of the same breads or cookies.
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