Science & Nutrition

Major challenges remain in acrylamide reduction, says new review

29-Aug-2011 - By Nathan Gray
  Reducing acrylamide formation in foods, especially potato products, remains a big challenge for industry.
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Reducing acrylamide content of foods while safeguarding other quality and taste aspects, still remains a challenge for industry, according to a new review of the science supporting reduction techniques.

From an agronomical point of view, substantial improvements can still be made in reducing acrylamide formation in potato products by developing varieties which are resistant to low temperature sweetening and with lower asparagine contents, however legal constraints and public acceptability mean it is not currently possible to use genetic techniques to engineer products within the European Union.

In addition, whist some may have shown promise in lab research, none of the acrylamide mitigating agents studied on the lab scale are readably implementable for industrial processing currently.

“All potential strategies to prevent acrylamide formation may be resumed in two major approaches, removal of the acrylamide precursors or interferance with the Maillard reaction,” explained the reviewers, led by Professor Bruno De Meulenaer from Ghent University, Belgium.

“Since the Maillard reaction is essential for the desired and characteristic flavour and colour formation of potato products, this constitutes the first challenge for food scientists on how to reduce acrylamide formation without affecting final product specifications and quality,” they explained.

The scientists noted that much of the research performed to date “demonstrates the necessity of a farm-to-fork approach in order to reduce acrylamide,” and note that recommendations given by the Joint FAO/WHO Committee “highlight the need of further efforts on developing and implementing mitigation methods for acrylamide in foods of major importance for dietary exposure.”

Carcinogen

Acrylamide is a known neurotoxin and a suspected carcinogen formed by a heat induced reaction between sugar and the amino acid asparagine. The process – known as the Maillard reaction - is responsible for the brown colour and tasty flavour of baked, fried and toasted food.

In 2002 Swedish researchers found the carcinogenic compound was present at high levels in many foods . The discovery grabbed international headlines, alarming consumers and food safety authorities globally.

Since then acrylamide has been the focus of much research, and had been found in many foods, including, bread, crackers, sweet biscuits, deep-fried products and coffee.

Epidemiological studies have since reported that everyday exposure to acrylamide from food substances is too low to be of carcinogenic concern - however in March 2010 the European Chemical Agency added the compound to its list of ‘substances of very high concern’.

The main focus of research has been on the compound’s effects in humans, and in how to improve production methods in order to reduce or remove acrylamide from foods.

While no legal limits have yet been established for the contaminant in foods, many authorities and industry members have begun to search for solutions to reduce acrylamide formation,.

Review details

The new academic review summarises research to date on acrylamide levels, mechanisms of formation, assessment of acrylamide intake and health risk, and possible mitigation strategies from farm to fork in fried potato products.

De Meulenaer and his team explained that the literature point towards several proposed possibilities for acrylamide reduction.

“Any concepts established to minimize acrylamide formation must certainly ensure that the sensorial properties of the final product are not negatively affected,” said the reviewers.

“Other considerations such as feasibility, food legislation, cost, effluent treatment, safety and comfort of the employees, ability to control dosage, etc. are equally relevant when considering the implementation of any change to an industrial process,” they added.

De Meulenaer and his colleagues added that any promising mitigation strategy and regulatory resolutions should be assessed with regard to the possible impact on consumer exposures.

Source: Food Chemistry
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1016/j.foodchem.2011.08.001
“Acrylamide formation in fried potato products – Present and Future, a critical review on mitigation strategies”
Authors: R.M Vinci, F. Mestdagh, B. De Meulenaer

Related topics: Science & Nutrition, Carbohydrates and fibres (sugar, starches)