Food Safety Management Systems to incorporate management of acrylamide

Food businesses must now put in place practical steps to manage acrylamide within their food safety management systems under EU Regulation 2017/2158 that took effect from 11 April 2018. This establishes best practice, mitigation measures and benchmark levels for the reduction of the presence of acrylamide in food.

Acrylamide is a chemical substance formed by a reaction between amino acids and sugars. It typically occurs when foods with high starch content such as potatoes, root vegetables and bread, are cooked at high temperatures (over 120°C) in a process of frying, roasting or baking.

Acrylamide is not deliberately added to foods, it is a natural by-product of the cooking process and has always been present in our food.

Laboratory tests show that acrylamide in the diet causes cancer in animals. While evidence from human studies on the impact of acrylamide in the diet is inconclusive, scientists agree that acrylamide in food has the potential to cause cancer in humans and it is therefore advisable to reduce exposure.

Acrylamide is found in wide range of foods including roasted potatoes and root vegetables, chips, crisps, toast, cakes, biscuits, cereals and coffee.

Previously it was best practice that food businesses put in place measures to ensure that levels of acrylamide are as low as reasonably practicable but now it is a legislative requirements that these best practice measures are followed.

Food Business Operators (FBOs) will be expected to:

  • Be aware of acrylamide as a food safety hazard and have a general understanding of how acrylamide is formed in the food they produce;
  • Take the necessary steps to mitigate acrylamide formation in the food they produce; adopting the relevant measures as part of their food safety management procedures
  • Undertake representative sampling and analysis where appropriate, to monitor the levels of acrylamide in their products as part of their assessment of the mitigation measures
  • Keep appropriate records of the mitigation measures undertaken, together with sampling plans and results of any testing

The measures are proportionate to the nature and size of the business, to ensure that small and micro-businesses are not burdened. The new legislation applies to all FBOs that produce or place on the market the foods listed below:

  • French fries, other cut (deep fried) products and sliced potato crisps from fresh potatoes
  • Potato crisps, snacks, crackers and other potato products from potato dough
  • Bread
  • Breakfast cereals (excluding porridge)
  • Fine bakery wares: cookies, biscuits, rusks, cereal bars, scones, cornets, wafers, crumpets and gingerbread, as well as crackers, crisp breads and bread substitutes
  • Coffee: (i) roast coffee; (ii) instant (soluble) coffee
  • Coffee substitutes
  • Baby food and processed cereal-based food intended for infants and young children

Different requirements apply to local and independent FBOs selling food directly to the consumer or directly into local retail. For example, independent cafes, fish and chip shops and restaurants.

For larger centrally controlled and supplied chains with standardised menus and operating procedures the legislation reflects that the controls of acrylamide can be managed from the centre. This would apply to for example, large restaurants, hotels and café chains.

The Benchmark Levels (BMLs) are set out in an Annex of Regulation 2017/2158. BMLs are generic performance indicators for the food categories covered by the Regulation. They are not maximum limits and are not intended to be used for enforcement purposes.  BMLs are to be used by FBOs to gauge the success of the mitigation measures.

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