Risk Assessment Principles and Acrylamide

Food producers should be particularly interested in the risk assessment and 'Margin Of Exposure' approach recently adopted by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) for Acrylamide; this approach  may also be extended to other chemical compounds that present a potential risk to human health but are present in extremely low levels (ie such contaminants as para red and sudan 1.) Additionally the approach suggested as to what mitigating factors a food business might utilise to reduce levels in their foods.

 What is Acrylamide?

The main chemical process that ‘browns’ food and affects its taste is the same reaction that produces acrylamide.  Acrylamide is a chemical that naturally forms in starchy food products during every-day high-temperature cooking (frying, baking, roasting and also industrial processing, at +120°C and low moisture). The most important food groups contributing to acrylamide exposure are fried potato products, coffee, biscuits, crackers, crisp bread and soft bread.

What is the risk?

EFSA has retained its’ earlier conclusion that acrylamide in food potentially increases the risk of developing cancer for consumers in all age groups. Evidence from animal studies showed that acrylamide, and its metabolite glycidamide, are genotoxic and carcinogenic: they damage DNA and cause cancer. Evidence from human studies that dietary exposure to acrylamide causes cancer is currently limited and inconclusive and further research is required.

At current levels of dietary exposure it is concluded acrylamide is not a health concern.

EFSA’s scientific advice will inform EU and national decision-makers when weighing up possible measures for further reducing consumer exposure to acrylamide in food. These may include, for example, advice on eating habits and home-cooking, or controls on commercial food production.

'Margin of Exposure'

Acrylamide and its metabolite glycidamide are genotoxic and carcinogenic. Since any level of exposure to a genotoxic substance could potentially damage DNA and lead to cancer, EFSA’s scientists have concluded that they cannot set a Tolerable Daily Intake (TDI) of acrylamide in food. However, By comparing the lower level at which potential adverse results may occur from human dietary exposure to acrylamide, scientists can indicate a “level of health concern” known as the “Margin Of Exposure”.

The ‘Margin Of Exposure’(MOE) approach provides an indication of the level of health concern about a substance’s presence in food without quantifying the risk. Use of the MOE can help risk managers in defining possible actions required to keep exposure to such substances as low as possible.

EFSA’s Scientific Committee states that, for substances that are genotoxic and carcinogenic, an MOE of 10,000 or higher is of low concern for public health. The MOEs for the cancer-related effects of acrylamide range from 425 for average adult consumers down to 50 for high consuming toddlers

For non-genotoxic substances, an MOE of 100 or higher normally indicates no concern for public health. The MOEs for neurological effects range from 1,075 for average adult consumers to 126 for high consuming toddlers. EFSA’s experts concluded that, for these effects, current levels of dietary exposure are not a health concern, although for toddlers and children with high dietary exposure the MOE is close to the values that might be of concern for these effects.

 Mitigating Actions

 An associated EFSA report references some of the mitigating actions being investigated to reduce levels of acrylamide in food.

The food industry (FDE),  in close co-operation with the national authorities and the European Commission, has developed a toolbox as of January 2014 to highlight ways to lower levels of acrylamide in food. Short extracts of the toolbox have been developed in form of sector specific brochures such as bread products, breakfast cereals, biscuits, crackers and crispbreads. These brochures are designed to help food business operators to implement those items of the "toolbox" that are relevant for their sector.

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