Danish food minister Eva Kjer Hansen is introducing Danish indicative levels for the carcinogenic food additive acrylamide, while the Norwegian Scientific Committee for Food Safety recently completed an acrylamide risk assessment that will be followed up further.
Kjer Hansen does not believe that the EU is taking hard enough steps against the food substance acrylamide—which is associated with the risk of developing cancer, and is found in such products as coffee, potato crisps and chips. Therefore she is now introducing special Danish indicative levels for the additive.
“According to both the European Food Safety Authority and Denmark’s National Food Institute, consumers have too high acrylamide intake. This is despite the fact that the EU has specified limit values at EU levels. Therefore, we need to lower the threshold further,” says Kjer Hansen.
“We unfortunately note that the current indicative EU limits do not protect Danish consumers well enough. So while we are working for lower limits in the EU, we in Denmark should utilise the opportunity offered by EU rules to introduce our own national values.”
Denmark’s new national limits are indicative and will serve as a guide for companies on the maximum level of acrylamide that their various products should include.
“The food industry is already aware of the acrylamide problem. By lowering the limit, I hope we can sharpen corporate focus on new routines and raw material processing, so that consumers need not fear the carcinogen when eating bread and drinking coffee,” Kjer Hansen says.
Risk assessment completed
The Norwegian Scientific Committee for Food Safety’s recently completed risk assessment provides important information and is a good basis for the Norwegian Food Safety Authority’s further work with acrylamide in food.
Acrylamide forms naturally in foods during cooking and during food production processes over 120° C when baking, frying, roasting or grilling. Starch-rich products such as potato-based and cereal-based foods may produce larger amounts of acrylamide. The substance is considered to be carcinogenic and genotoxic (can damage the genetic material).
Studies in several countries have shown that potato crisps, chips and some types of biscuits contain the most acrylamide, but the material is also found in smaller amounts in coffee, bread, potato tortillas and other fried foods.
“The Norwegian Food Safety Authority ordered this risk assessment from the Norwegian Scientific Committee for Food Safety to find out if the Norwegian population consumes as much acrylamide through food as EU residents,” says authority senior advisor Anders Tharaldsen.
“The committee finds that the total exposure is similar, although there is a difference in the type of foods that are the source of acrylamide consumption in the EU and Norway. The conclusion that acrylamide from foods may increase the risk of developing cancer is therefore also relevant for the Norwegian population. This is an important factor in our further work with this issue, both in terms of regulations and advisories.”
The government has for several years analysed different food groups for the content of acrylamide. As recently as May this year the Norwegian Food Safety Authority published a report that showed that the levels are still high in several products. Compared with acrylamide occurrence data in food reported in the European Food Safety Authority’s risk assessment, the Norwegian data doesn’t stand out significantly, with the exception of a few food groups.
An important part of the Norwegian Scientific Committee for Food Safety’s report is the assessment of exposure in Norwegian one-year-olds, since information from national and European dietary surveys show that they have higher consumption of children’s porridge than other European toddlers. It turns out that they consume about as much acrylamide as other toddlers in Europe because acrylamide concentrations measured in Norwegian samples of children’s porridge powder was lower than in samples from the European Food Safety Authority.
The foods that did stand out in the committee’s report included:
Potato crisps – A large bag of potato chips in the Norwegian market weighs around 300 grams. If a person weighing 70 kg eats 100 grams, this alone provides an intake of acrylamide over twice the average daily intake in adolescents and adults.
Chips – An average serving of chips weighs about 135 grams. If a person of 70 kg consumes an average serving of fries, this alone provides an intake of acrylamide above the average daily intake in adolescents and adults.
Coffee – The average intake of coffee is 5 dl/day. An average cup of coffee in Norway contains about 2 dl. An intake of 5 ml coffee in a 70-kg person gives an acrylamide intake alone almost equivalent to the daily average intake of adults.
As a result of the risk assessment carried out by the Norwegian Scientific Committee for Food Safety, the Norwegian Food Safety Authority has now released advice on how consumers can reduce the intake of acrylamide. The advice applies to both consumption of various foods and cooking at home. The authority will now use calculations from the committee as a basis for revising the recommendations.
“The acrylamide issue is taken more and more into the Norwegian Food Safety Authority’s daily work. Additionally, Norway is contributing in the effort to develop new stricter requirements for food manufacturers throughout Europe. New regulations should be in place shortly,” says Tharaldsen. “The committee report is a very important basis for our work ahead.”