The interim report from the FSA forms part of a rolling programme in response to European Commission recommendations to investigate the levels of acrylamide and furan in food products.
Based on samples taken from 300 products collected between November 2011 to December 2012, the survey gives a snapshot of the range of acrylamide and furan levels in the UK - finding that on the whole levels of acrylamide have not increased (and have decreased in many cases).
The FSA report (found here) shows that 17 of the products sampled were found to contain acrylamide levels that exceeded the ‘indicative value’ (IV) for their food group - but added that "levels of acrylamide and furan reported do not increase concern about the risk to human health and the Agency has not changed its advice to consumers."
Acylamide and furan
Acrylamide is a suspected carcinogen that is formed during by heat-induced reaction between sugar and an amino acid called asparagine. Known as the Maillard reaction, this process is responsible for the brown colour and tasty flavour of baked, fried and toasted foods.
It has been found in a wide range of home-cooked and processed foods, including potato crisps, French fries, bread, crispbreads and coffee. Despite being a carcinogen in the laboratory, many epidemiological studies have reported that everyday exposure to acrylamide in food is too low to be of concern.
The compound first hit the headlines in 2002, when scientists at the Swedish Food Administration first reported unexpectedly high levels of acrylamide in carbohydrate-rich foods. Since the Swedish discovery a global effort has been underway to amass data about this chemical.
More than 200 research projects have been initiated around the world and their findings co-ordinated by national governments, the EU and the United Nations.
Furan is formed from the thermal degradation of sugars, oxidation of polyunsaturated fatty acids or the decomposition of ascorbic acid (vitamin C). It is found in a variety of products, including coffee, prefabricated potato snacks and canned and jarred products which, during processing, have been subjected to a high temperature heat treatment (e.g. roasting, frying, canning etc).
As in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010, the acrylamide and furan data will be submitted to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). EFSA will in turn collate the acrylamide results with those from other Member States and, in the case of furan, these data will be used by EFSA as the basis of developing a risk assessment.