Acrylamide forms from naturally present substances in the food; asparagine (an amino acid) in combination with sugars. It is activated by high temperatures during cooking (particularly frying, roasting, toasting and baking). The main types of food groups that are of concern include potato, cereal and coffee based products. Potato, bread and pastry products (including biscuits, crackers, toast and chips) produce more acrylamide when over-cooked (partly due to them being particularly starchy). It is said that acrylamide can cause cancer it is therefore important that food is not overcooked.
The European Food Standards Agency took the view in 2015 that acrylamide is a carcinogenic substance and that regulations were needed to limit dietry exposure to it.
All food businesses in the EU need to put in place mitigation measures to reduce acrylamide; larger food businesses such as manufacturers need to monitor the effectiveness of those measures by quantitative analysis.
There are some simple steps that caterers can take to reduce acrylamide risks:
- Before cooking staff should soak fresh potatoes in water after cutting and drain before cooking to reduce the starch/sugar content. Potatoes must also not be stored in the fridge as they can form higher sugar content.
- Of particular concern is deep fat frying. The longer you fry a food product such as potatoes or coated products (such as bread-crumbed items) the more acrylamide is produced. Oil must be changed regularly and regularly skimmed to remove food debris throughout the service period.
- Oven cooking, toasting and grilling also presents a significant risk though so bread and pastry products must not be over-cooked or burnt. Chefs must ensure that they are cooked to a lighter shade, whilst still ensuring that the core is cooked thoroughly. Cutting potatoes and other food to similar sizes helps to ensure even cooking. Any darker or burnt items should be disposed of.
Learn more about the health effects of acrylamide from the World Health Organisation.