EFSA organised a scientific colloquium in Italy last month, to debate how the current position of acrylamide may have changed since conclusions regarding it safety in 2005, as well as future challenges on its potential toxicity and cancer risk. Following a review of the evidence on the chemical, EFSA said: "The consensus among the scientists was that the latest evaluation on acrylamide carried out by JEFCA agreed by EFSA, was still relevant and there is currently no need to revise the risk assessment. "However, additional new data are expected to become available within the next year that may reduce uncertainties and hence may call for revision of the risk assessment advice," EFSA added. This means reformulation efforts by manufacturers are still relevant and gives ongoing support to commercial solutions, such as DSM and Novozymes respective acrylamide-reducing enzymes. In 2005, EFSA endorsed a risk assessment on acrylamide in food, which was carried out by the Joint Food and Agriculture organisation and World Health Organisation (JEFCA). It decided the margins of exposure for average and high consumption consumers were low for a compound that is genotoxic and carcinogenic, and that this factor may indicate a human health concern. The Commission said "appropriate efforts to reduce acrylamide concentrations in foodstuffs should continue", sparking reformulation efforts in the industry and new product launches aimed at reducing the presence of acrylamide. The Commission recommended a re-evaluation once new data was published on carcinogenicity or human acrylamide in food. Scientific colloquium Acrylamide is a carcinogen that is created when starchy foods are baked, roasted, fried or toasted. It first hit the headlines in 2002, when scientists at the Swedish Food Administration first reported unexpectedly high levels of acrylamide, found to cause cancer in laboratory rats, in carbohydrate-rich foods. Eighty scientists from 22 countries met at EFSA's colloquium to discuss studies released since the 2005 assessment, and covered four main areas:
- Epidemiological evidence relating acrylamide exposure to cancer risk in humans, including its uncertainties
- The applications of biomarkers for acrylamide and models in relation to the exposure, metabolism and elimination
- Genotoxic (affecting cell genetics) and non-genotoxic mechanisms of carcinogenicity of acrylamide
- The current knowledge on dietary exposure to acrylamide across Europe and the exploration of any new potential food sources contributing to dietary intake
Acrylamide studies Studies published since EFSA's last risk assessment include a major three-year EU study last year, known as Heat-generated Food Toxicants (Heatox), which related acrylamide and 50 other heat-induced compounds to cancer. Additionally, earlier this year, research conducted by the National Food Institute, the Technical Univeristy of Denmark and the Danish Cancer Society linked high dietary intake of acrylamide with the risk of breast cancer. And last month, a study of 5,000 women from the Netherlands found increased dietary intakes of acrylamide could raise the risk of kidney cancer by 59 per cent. Reducing acrylamide Manufacturers have adapted their food processing to reduce acrylamide formation with techniques such as bakers reducing sugar or heat. However, this was said to impact on taste. Both DSM and Novozymes have therefore developed enzymes designed to help manufacturers reduce acrylamide in their products without impacting on sensory properties. Last year, DSM launched PreventASe - an enzyme from the micro-organism Aspergillus niger, which is billed as a way to reduce acrylamide formation. According to DSM, the enzyme converts one of the precursors of acrylamide, asparagines, into another naturally occurring amino acid, aspartate. This means asparagine is no longer available in the foodstuff to allow for the chemical reaction that forms acrylamide. Much importance has been placed on acrylamide reduction, and just a day after DSM's launch, Novozymes announced the development of Acrylaway, an asparaginase from a different organism, known as Aspergillus oryzae. This enzyme converts free asparagine into an animo acid that does not form acrylamide. Also, researchers in China have suggested that bamboo and green leaf tea extracts could reduce the chemical in microwave-cooked food.