The report looked at acrylamide and furan levels in 556 UK retail foodstuffs obtained over the period November 2011 – December 2013 from the ten food groups specified in the Commission Recommendation (EU) No. 2010/307 on the monitoring of acrylamide in food.
Of the analysis conducted - 544 tests for acrylamide and 266 for furan – the authority concluded: “The 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.”
It said it would be forwarding the results to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) for reference and in the case of furan a risk assessment. The report follows an EFSA opinion in July that acrylamide may increase consumers’ cancer risk.
Acrylamide and furan are process contaminants – meaning they are not present in the raw materials but occur after chemical changes in processing. Acrylamide is formed when foods containing sugar and the amino acid asparagine are heated above 120°C. It is associated with cooking methods where food is ‘browned’ and therefore less likely to occur with boiling.
Furan is formed during roasting, frying and canning as a result of the thermal degradation of sugars, oxidation of polyunsaturated fatty acids or decomposition of ascorbic acid (vitamin C).
Acrylamide ups and downs
The highest mean concentrations of acrylamide (500 micrograms per kilogram) were detected in popped crisps, vegetable crisps, potato crisps, baked potato and prefabricated snacks.
Products with the lowest average amounts (less than 100 microgram per kilogram) included novelty gingerbread, pastry, tortilla/corn snacks, processed cereal baby food, dates/olives, soft bread and non- processed cereal baby food.
Comparing the results of annual surveys conducted since 2007, the report said no significant trends had been found. However it noted “tentative trends” of an overall potential decrease in crisps, soft bread, biscuits and crackers with an overall potential increase in annual averages in infant cereals (excluding biscuits and rusks).
It said “no significant change or discernible trends” had been detected for French fries sold ready to eat, potato products for home cooking, breakfast cereals, roast coffee or baby foods in jars and pouches.
Industry body FoodDrinkEurope has made the reduction of acrylamide a priority over the last few years, introducing a ‘toolbox’ to help its members reduce levels.
The future of furan
FSA said the average amounts of furan were relatively low across all categories (less than 100 micrograms per kg), with the lowest amounts (less than 10 micrograms per kg) found in canned olives, cereal bars and granola, novelty gingerbread and jams and preserves.
The highest amounts (more than 50 micrograms/kg as consumed) were in sweet popcorn. Decreases in furan were observed in coffee when it was prepared for consumption, the report said.