U.K. agency seeks to cut consumer acrylamide intake

by Josh Sosland
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Burnt toast, acrylamide
The F.S.A. encourages consumers to aim for a golden color when frying, baking, toasting or roasting starchy products.

LONDON — The Food Standards Agency of the United Kingdom has launched a campaign to inform the public about acrylamide with the objective of helping consumers minimize exposure to the possible carcinogen.

Dubbed “Go for Gold,” the campaign encourages consumers to, as a rule of thumb aim for a golden color when frying, baking, toasting or roasting starchy products such as bread, potatoes and other root vegetables.

Acrylamide has been a suspected carcinogen for decades, but questions about the chemical surged to prominence more than a decade ago when it was discovered that the compound was prevalent in many widely consumed products at levels higher than scientists historically had considered safe.

Leading sources of acrylamide in the diet include french fries, some ready-to-eat breakfast cereals, some bread varieties, potato chips, cookies, crackers and coffee. Since that time, the scientific and public health communities have sought to reach consensus on the level of risk posed by acrylamide and the degree to which consumers should avoid foods containing acrylamide.

“The scientific consensus is that acrylamide has the potential to cause cancer in humans,” the F.S.A. said.

Denise Lewis, Olympian
As part of its initiative, the F.S.A. is partnering with Olympic athlete Denise Lewis.

As part of its initiative, the F.S.A. is partnering with Olympic athlete Denise Lewis. Now a mother of four, Ms. Lewis won the gold medal in the heptathlon at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. As part of the campaign, Ms. Lewis will suggest consumers make small changes in how they cook to help diminish acrylamide intake.

“As a mum, the well-being of my family is my top priority, particularly when it comes to the meals I cook for them at home,” Ms. Lewis said. “ With so many factors to consider, it’s great that the F.S.A. is helping people to understand  the changes we can make to reduce acrylamide in the food we eat regularly  at home.”

Other guidance the F.S.A. is offering as part of the initiative is for consumers to follow cooking instructions carefully when frying or oven-heating products.

“The on-pack instructions are designed to cook the product correctly,” the F.S.A. said. “This ensures that you aren’t cooking starchy foods for too long or at temperatures that are too high.”

The group also is advising consumers to eat a varied and balanced diet as a way to reduce the risk of cancer.

The F.S.A. said the campaign was prompted by the results of a scientific study indicating U.K. consumer intake of acrylamide is higher “than is desirable.”

Steve Wearne, F.S.A.
Steve Wearne, director of policy at the F.S.A. 

“Our research indicates that the majority of people are not aware that acrylamide exists, or that they might be able to reduce their personal intake,” said Steve Wearne, director of policy at the F.S.A. “We want our ‘Go for Gold’ campaign to highlight the issue so that consumers know how to make the small changes that may reduce their acrylamide consumption whilst still eating plenty of starchy carbohydrates and vegetables as recommended in government healthy eating advice.

“Although there is more to know about the true extent of the acrylamide risk, there is an important job for government, industry and others to do to help reduce acrylamide intake. This campaign is part of the F.S.A.’s wider work to reduce the level of acrylamide that people consume.”

Mr. Weane said the F.S.A. is working with the food industry to lower the acrylamide levels in food products.

Results of the study were not alarming

“The levels of acrylamide and furan obtained over the period of January 2014-November 2015 do not increase concern about risk to human health,” the F.S.A. said. “The agency has therefore not changed its advice to consumers.” 
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