The EU Commission is drafting new regulation to introduce maximum levels of acrylamide, likely lower than current benchmark levels, in different types of food products, including biscuits, rusks and cereal foods for infants and children.
“The new acrylamide regulation currently being drafted by the European Commission will increase the requirements for food producers to legally sell their products in the EU,”
says Hans Christian Lindstrøm Wegge, Marketing Manager Baking, at Novozymes. “If the regulation is adopted, it will be a tough challenge for the industry to continuously ensure low acrylamide levels in food products.”
Acrylamide is a suspected carcinogen that forms naturally in food during frying, baking or extrusion at high heat and low moisture.
Here is a link to the draft regulation. It’s important to note, however, that the initial proposal was rejected by the EU Parliament, as it was deemed to not be stringent enough. So this draft regulation exists as a window into the situation as of time of publishing, but is highly likely to change.
How is acrylamide formed?
During high temperature cooking processes, such as baking, a chemical reaction can occur between amino acids and reducing sugars that gives browned food its distinctive flavor. This is called the Maillard reaction, and can result in the creation of acrylamide.
Because this reaction occurs naturally, acrylamide has probably always been present in cooked foods. But it wasn’t until 2002 that it was discovered in certain foods, and it was only in 2010 that the Joint Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) concluded that acrylamide is a human health concern, and suggested additional long-term studies.
A varied approach from the US and EU
Both the EU and the USFDA warn of acrylamide’s possible carcinogenic effects, and consumer organizations have made a call for tougher regulations. The USFDA maintains recommendations for the food industry for how to reduce levels of the chemical, but the guidance is nonbinding and does not specify a particular maximum level.
That stands in contrast to the EU, where benchmark levels for acrylamide in food products were introduced in 2018. Under that law, food manufacturers – in addition to restaurants – are required to maintain levels below certain benchmarks.
That brings us to the current situation, where regulators are reportedly considering even lower mandatory levels in upcoming legislation.
Complying with regulation using a biological solution
Home cooks looking to avoid acrylamide creation in their meals can take relatively simple steps to do so, including not cooking foods until they are dark brown. Other foods can even be boiled, or cooked in the microwave, instead of the oven.
But for larger-scale producers of bread and baked goods, a more practical solution is clearly necessary.
“With the new regulation, producers will need to ensure that they have a reliable and robust solution to ensure compliance with the regulation. To support the food industry, Novozymes Acrylaway® was developed. It’s an enzymatic solution that reduces acrylamide formation in bakery products and other foods by up to 95%,”
Lindstrøm Wegge says.
Novozymes’ Acrylaway® was first launched in 2007. Its robustness and lack of impact on product quality and production capacity makes it an ideal solution for consistently mitigating acrylamide levels.
Being an enzymatic solution, Acrylaway® does not require any ingredients or process changes and does not impact the eating experience of the final product, e.g. taste and texture.
The European Commission is expected to issue the draft regulation in alignment with the revision of the benchmark levels by April 2021, after which the industry should learn more about adoption and the effective date.