Acrylamide, new EU rules


What do French fries, baked goods, coffee and its substitutes have in common? A serious health hazard related to ingredients and processing temperature, acrylamide. Which can and indeed should be mitigated, thanks to new EU rules.

Acrylamide, a dangerous contaminant

‘Acrylamide is a low-molecular-weight, highly water-soluble organic compound that forms from the constituents asparagine and sugars naturally present in certain foods prepared at temperatures normally above 120 ºC and with a low degree of moisture. Acrylamide is mainly formed in carbohydrate-rich foods that are baked or fried, consisting of raw materials that contain its precursors, such as cereals, potatoes and coffee beans.’ (1)

Contaminant, and therefore a cause of chemical hazard to food safety. This is how European legislation qualifies acrylamide. (2) The Commission, in 2013, had called on member state authorities to investigate production methods with the aim of understanding the extent to which they might interfere with contamination levels, which vary significantly from one product to another. (3)

The European Food Safety Authority had in turn clarified back in 2015 that acrylamide and its metabolite glycidamide are genotoxic and carcinogenic. (4) ‘Since any level of exposure to a genotoxic substance potentially has the ability to damage DNA and initiate cancer,’ scientific experts concluded that it is not possible to ‘establish a tolerable daily intake (TDI)’ in foods. (5)

New EU rules to reduce acrylamide

The European Commission has just published the final text of the regulation ‘establishing mitigation measures and reference levels for the reduction of acrylamide in food‘. (6)

The regulation identifies a number of ‘mitigation measures’ to be taken at critical stages of food processing during which the contaminant can be formed and outlines a series of actions to reduce acrylamide levels in different food products. (7) First and foremost, control of cooking temperatures (e.g. 160° – 175° C for frying, 180° – 220° C for baking potato products) and various other expedients.

The aim is to reduce the level of public exposure to identified hazards by setting ‘reference levels’-subject to periodic review, on a three-yearly basis-that are to guide the application of hygiene regulations. (8)

Food hygiene: the measures and conditions necessary to control hazards and ensure fitness for human consumption of a foodstuff taking into account its intended use’ (EC Reg. 852/04, Art. 2.1.a)

Reference levels should be used ‘to verify the effectiveness of mitigation measures and (…) should be set at the lowest level reasonably achievable with the application of all relevant mitigation measures.’ (9)

Uniform methods of sampling and analysis must also be established, to verify the effectiveness of the mitigation measures taken. Prescribing appropriate criteria to ensure the representativeness of the samples and the frequency of analyses in relation to the risks, to be submitted to (10)

Maximum levels of acrylamide contamination must in any case be established in relation to certain foodstuffs in accordance with Reg. EEC 315/93. (11)

Food products subject to the new rules

The products listed below are subject to the mitigation measures designed to mitigate acrylamide risk ‘as low as possible,’ and in any case below the reference levels.

– French fries cut into sticks and other fried cut products,

– Potato chips, snacks, crackers, and other potato products,

– bread,

– breakfast cereal,

– fine baked goods, i.e., cookies, galettes, rusks, cereal bars, cones, waffles, crackers, crisp breads, and bread substitutes,

– Coffee (roasted and soluble) and its substitutes,

– Early childhood foods and cereal-based foods for infants and young children. (12)

If reference levels are exceeded, food business operators shall ‘review the mitigation measures applied and adjust processes and controls to achieve the lowest acrylamide levels reasonably achievable, below reference levels.’

Big Food ‘s interest thus prevails, once again unfortunately, over safeguarding public health. Under the banner of soft law-as dear, to this Commission, as it is ineffective-foods that on the basis of analysis are found to be carcinogenic and genotoxic could still be distributed to the consumer. Except prescribing the operator to review procedures ‘without delay,’ such as cooking temperatures. (13)

The regulations are expected to be published in the Official Gazette in early 2018. It will go into effect 20 days later and apply over the next four months.

Dario Dongo


(1) Regulation of the European Commission, Recital 3.

(2) See reg. EEC 315/93

(3) See Recommendation 2013/647/EU.

(4) SEE

(5) Efsa came to identical conclusions on the process contaminants that characterize palm oil. Commissioner Andriukaitis, however, has not yet taken any initiative in this regard

(6) See

(7) Idem c.s., Recital 8, Annexes I and II.

(8) Ibid, Recital 7

(9) Recital 10, Annex IV

(10) Cons. 13, 14, art. 4, Annex III

(11) Consideration 15. Reg. EEC 315/93 ‘establishes Community procedures relating to contaminants in foodstuffs

(12) Cf. reg. EU 609/13

(13) A de facto, and therefore still censurable, derogation from the criteria defined in reg. EC 178/02, Articles 14 and 19