Italian study raises concern on the food industry’s capacity – and will – to meet with targets proposed by the European Commission on how much acrylamide, a known carcinogen, is acceptable in food.
Ever heard of acrylamide? It is as obscure carcinogen found in everything from chips to coffee, formed when starchy ingredients are cooked above 120°C. Lab tests have shown it causes cancer in animals – and there are serious concerns for humans too. In response, the EU decided to limit acrylamide levels in food – a move that was supported by both the food industry and consumer groups.
Foods such as bread, biscuits, rusks, cereal bars, scones, wafers, crumpets, gingerbread, crackers, and bread substitutes. Non-bakery products covered by the legislation include chips, crisps, coffee and breakfast cereals. It is not possible to eliminate acrylamide from foods, but actions can be taken during production to ensure that acrylamide levels stay as low as reasonably achievable.
Under the new EU rules, from April 2018, European food business operators will be expected to:
- Be aware of acrylamide as a food safety hazard and have a general understanding of how acrylamide is formed in the food they produce;
- Take the necessary steps to mitigate acrylamide formation in the food they produce, adopting the relevant measures as part of their food safety management procedures;
- Undertake representative sampling and analysis where appropriate, to monitor the levels of acrylamide in their products as part of their assessment of the mitigation measures;
- Keep appropriate records of the mitigation measures undertaken, together with sampling plans and results of any testing.
Under this regulation adopted last September by government ministers and the European Parliament (Commission Regulation EU 2017/2158), EU food companies should take action to try and make sure acrylamide does not account for more than 750 micrograms per kilogram. However, a study lead by Italian consumer magazine il Salvagente found that acrylamide levels were significantly higher in samples of crisps sold in the country. Similar levels were noticed by British Food Standards Agency (FSA) and Food Standards Scotland last month.
As it is, the regulation system does not include a sanctions regime for those who breach the 750-mg benchmark. “If in January there are companies whose products still have more than 1600 micrograms (per kilogramme), it is clear that the system is not going to work,” warned Floriana Cimmarusti, Secretary General of Safe Food Advocacy Europe at the time. “Food manufacturers are very careful when there are legal limits and a risk of fines and intervention,” she added. Reacting to the limited effect of the current system, EC has indicated that it was planning to “initiate discussions” on setting maximum levels of acrylamide in certain foods, after the new regulation comes into force.
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