F.D.A. finalizes acrylamide guidance

by Jay Sjerven
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The Food and Drug Administration on March 11 issued its final Guidance for Industry: Acrylamide in Foods, which emphasized the importance of reducing acrylamide content in food and suggested how the goal may be realized. Two food industry sectors are directly affected: the baking industry and the potato products industry.

Acrylamide is a chemical that may form in certain foods during high-temperature cooking, such as frying, roasting and baking. The National Toxicology Program characterizes the substance as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.” The F.D.A. acknowledged efforts to reduce acrylamide levels already were under way in many sectors of the food industry.

To help mitigate potential human health risks, the F.D.A.’s guidance recommended companies be aware of the levels of acrylamide in the foods they produce and consider approaches, if feasible, that reduce acrylamide in products. The guidance also offered a range of steps growers, manufacturers and food service operators may take to help reduce acrylamide levels.

Industry already was working on ways to reduce levels.

The focus of the non-binding final guidance was on raw materials, processing practices and ingredients pertaining to potato-based foods (such as french fries and potato chips), cereal-based foods (such as cookies, crackers, breakfast cereals and toasted bread), and coffee.

The F.D.A. guidance stated it was not suggesting maximum recommended levels for acrylamide in various products at this time.

“We recommend that manufacturers be aware of acrylamide levels in their products because knowledge of acrylamide levels is essential for determining the effectiveness of acrylamide reduction techniques,” the F.D.A. explained. The agency also said it would update this guidance as needed to reflect new developments in the field of acrylamide reduction.

The F.D.A. guidance noted ways to reduce acrylamide in french fries include cutting fries in shapes with smaller surface areas and changing blanching practices. In potato chips, increasing peel removal may help reduce acrylamide as might washing or soaking potato chips before frying, cutting thinner potato chips, and decreasing frying temperatures to 175 degrees Celsius (347 degrees Fahrenheit) or below.

Cereal-based foods affected by the guidance include bread, cookies, crackers, baked sweet products and breakfast cereals that are manufactured from cereal crops such as wheat and corn. The F.D.A.’s major advice relating to reducing acrylamide in the products was unchanged from its draft guidance issued in November 2013. Some of the F.D.A.’s suggestions on means for reducing acrylamide that may be employed by bakers included: replacing ammonium bicarbonate in cookies and crackers with alternative leavening agents, while avoiding overall increases in sodium levels; replacing reducing sugars with non-reducing sugars, using reducing sugars with lower fructose content, and only adding sugar coatings to breakfast cereals after toasting steps; lowering thermal input through modifying baking times and temperatures and considering alternative baking technologies; and setting a higher moisture endpoint in cereal-based foods and monitoring moisture levels in finished products.

Lee Sanders, senior vice-president of government relations and public affairs for the American Bakers Association, noted, “The final F.D.A. Guidance on Acrylamide contained no changes from the proposed (the draft guidance issued in 2013) regarding bread and pasta except for adding a reference that F.D.A. had approved asparaginase.” Ms. Sanders added the F.D.A. incorporated “all of the A.B.A.’s recommended changes before it went to proposal.”

In reviewing the F.D.A.’s final guidance, David Acheson, founder and chief executive officer of The Acheson Group, said, “It is now almost 15 years since the concerns around acrylamide emerged. There has been discussion on a variety of fronts regarding whether or not there should be an action level for acrylamide. But, F.D.A. has avoided going down that road. Instead the agency has issued guidance. To me, this signals that F.D.A. is serious about acrylamide, but not so concerned about it as a human health hazard that they feel obligated to set action levels and embark on a strategy to reduce acrylamide in foods through a regulatory approach.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, which petitioned the F.D.A. in 2003 to set limits on acrylamide in food, said, “The F.D.A. should have set binding requirements, including specific limits on the amount of acrylamide allowed in industrially produced food, but the final guidance issued today is a welcome step, and companies should follow it. And those companies that have been working hard over the past decade to minimize acrylamide deserve credit.”

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