Acrylamide has become a food industry issue again in 2009. Listed as a probable carcinogen by the American Cancer Society, acrylamide became a topic of conversation in 2002 when researchers at the Swedish National Food Administration and Stockholm University reported trace levels of naturally occurring acrylamide were detected in some baked and fried foods.
This year government organizations in Canada and Europe have addressed acrylamide, and the issue may have an effect on U.S. grain-based food manufacturers.
"All people are concerned about food safety, both in Europe and in North America," said Gary Johnson, global marketing manager, Novozymes North America Inc., Franklinton, N.C. "In Europe a number of consumer associations and the press have had focus on food contaminants, including acrylamide, and ways of mitigation."
Two enzyme-based ingredients — Acrylaway from Novozymes and PreventASe from DSM —– are designed to keep acrylamide from developing in food products.
"It is up to the national authorities to decide upon possible acrylamide legislation," Mr. Johnson said. "We focus on providing a solution to acrylamide, so that food producers and brand owners will have reduced concerns.
"Acrylaway will allow them to comply with any limit of acrylamide content. Having said that, however, it is obvious that the F.D.A. has acrylamide mitigation as a key priority. Due to the complexity of acrylamide studies in humans, however, this is most likely a lengthy process."
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, acrylamide caused cancer in animals in studies where they were exposed to acrylamide at high doses. The F.D.A. has not yet determined the public health impact, if any, of acrylamide from the lower levels found in food. The F.D.A. continues to study acrylamide and has posted acrylamide testing results for food samples.
The Confederation of the Food and Drink Industry (CIAA) of the European Union on Feb. 17 published updates on its Acrylamide Toolbox and for the first time integrated information from the Grocery Manufacturers Association (G.M.A.) in the United States. For another update, "Processing: Asparaginase" is listed as a separate tool.
"Featuring the results of ongoing industry research, the latest update of the Toolbox helps manufacturers understand the issue of acrylamide formulation, assess potential solutions to reduce it and identify the best option for scientific products and processes," said Ruth Donners, business development manager for PreventASe, DSM Food Specialties. "With a greater focus on
asparaginase, manufacturers can now see its value across a wider range of applications such as dough-based potato products, ready-to-eat cereal products, cereal-based snacks, biscuits and coffee."
Health Canada will engage the food industry in developing a guidance document outlining best practices for acrylamide reduction in pre-packaged foods, and will continue to support the development and implementation of additional tools, including the enzyme asparaginase in food processing.
Another strategy in the works at Health Canada is to implement an acrylamide monitoring program to evaluate the effectiveness of reduction strategies. The monitoring program will target foods such as potato chips, french fries, cereals, bread, coffee, cocoa products, roasted nuts, grains and seed, and baby and infant food.
Health Canada will coordinate its risk management efforts for acrylamide in food with food regulatory partners in the United States, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Japan.
The American Bakers Association, Washington, is working with a baking association in Canada about the acrylamide issue, said Lee Sanders, vice-president of government relations and public affairs for the A.B.A.
Ms. Sanders said the Health Canada initiative will seek to educate consumers and accentuate the positive, such as talking about proper cooking times and brownness, rather than the negatives. Any potential labeling requirements dealing with acrylamide on products sold in Canada would have an effect on U.S. bakers wanting to sell products in that country, she said.
"There is certainly potential there, where going across the (border), labeling would need to be compliant," she said and added if labeling is not required, that would be a positive development.
She said in the United States the National Center for Toxicological Research may release results of a rodent study involving acrylamide in the last quarter of this calendar year.
"I really don’t think you’re going to see any decisions made by the F.D.A. until that report comes out," Ms. Sanders said.
Acrylamide may be formed during cooking processes that reach 120 degrees Celsius (248 degrees Fahrenheit) or higher, Ms. Donners said. She gave frying, baking and roasting as examples of cooking processes that may become that hot.
Acrylamide is an undesired side-reaction of the Maillard reaction, Ms. Donners said. Reducing sugars and a naturally occurring amino acid called asparagine react under the influence of heat. Most grains, including wheat, corn and rye, contain both reducing sugars and asparagine, which means acrylamide may be formed in all grain-based foods applications in which they are heated to temperatures above approximately 120 degrees Celsius. Ms. Donners gave bread, biscuits, cookies, cereals, crackers and gingerbread as examples.
PreventASe lowers acrylamide levels without affecting the quality, taste or texture of the finished product, Ms. Donners said. The enzyme is a so-called "asparaginase enzyme preparation" from the Aspergillus niger micro-organism. It converts asparagine, a precursor of acrylamide, into aspartate, another naturally occurring amino acid. As a result, no asparagine is available for the chemical reaction that forms acrylamide.
The Food and Drug Administration in March of 2007 said it had no questions about studies showing
A. niger asparaginase enzyme preparation is Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) for use in reducing asparagine levels in L-asparagine and carbohydrate-containing foods that are heated above 120 degrees Celsius.
Ms. Donners said the company has received other regulatory approvals on PreventASe from Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, France, Switzerland, Denmark, Mexico and Russia. The Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport also has amended the Commodities Act relating to Bread and Flour to include PreventASe for use as a baking enzyme, thereby enabling its use in the intended food applications in The Netherlands.
Acrylaway from Novozymes is a commercial asparaginase enzyme for food applications that precludes acrylamide formulation up to 90% in dough-based products without influencing taste or appearance. Acrylaway is produced by the submerged fermentation of Aspergillus Oryzae, a micro-organism.
Acrylamide reductions vary by application when using Acrylaway. Potential applications include cookies and biscuits (50% to 90% reduction), crackers (75% to 85%), crisp bread and toasted bread (85% to 90%), and snacks (75% to 90%). The amount of reduction may depend on several factors, including temperature, pH and water activity, Mr. Johnson said.
Acrylaway received GRAS status in the United States in 2006. It does not have to be labeled on the final food product. Enzymes used as processing tools typically are inactivated.
Acrylaway is used industrially in more than 25 countries and in such products as biscuits, cookies, crisp bread, honey cakes, dough-based snacks, cereal breakfasts and pretzels.
Examining the potential danger
Debate still swirls over the potential danger of acrylamide in foods:
• The story "Beyond Acrylamide: Risks vs. Benefits of Maillard-Browned Foods Containing Animal Carcinogens" appeared in the Summer 2008 Institute of Food Technologists’ publication "Toxicology and Safety Evaluation Division Newsletter." Dr. James R. Coughlin, Ph.D., of Coughlin & Associates and author of the report, wrote, "In conclusion, we must encourage health and regulatory authorities globally to carefully assess the risk of whole foods and beverages, not trace levels of individual chemicals in these products. They should begin to give much greater public health consideration to the potential health benefits of heated foods and beverages."
• The International Food Information Council gave an update on acrylamide in its March 2009 issue of "Food Insight." Dr. Carl Winter, director of a food safety program at the University of California, Davis, gave the following consumer advice, "Cooked foods, even those that may contain small amounts of acrylamide, are safe to consume, particularly as part of a balanced diet."
• A study called "Dietary Acrylamide Intake and Risk of Premenopausal Breast Cancer" appeared on-line Feb. 18, 2009, in the American Journal of Epidemiology. The authors studied the association between acrylamide intake and breast cancer risk among 90,628 postmenopausal women in the Nurses’ Health Study II.
They found no associations between intakes of food high in acrylamide, including french fries, coffee, cereal, potato chips, potatoes and baked foods, and breast cancer risk. They found no evidence that acrylamide intake within the range of U.S. diets is associated with increased risk of premenopausal breast cancer.
Health Canada to work with food industry
Health Canada will focus on the following issues to develop and implement acrylamide reduction strategies by food processors and the food service industry:
• Health Canada will engage the food industry in the development of a guidance document outlining best practices for acrylamide reduction in prepackaged foods;
• Health Canada will continue to support the development and implementation of additional tools, including the use of the enzyme asparaginase in food processing, that will minimize acrylamide formation in foods;
• Health Canada will ensure that acrylamide reduction strategies are adopted by the Canadian food service industry;
• Health Canada will implement an acrylamide monitoring program to evaluate the effectiveness of these reduction strategies and to assess industry’s compliance with identified acrylamide reduction best practices.
This article can also be found in the digital edition of Milling and Baking News, April 21, 2009, starting on Page 35. Click