In 2002, acrylamide was detected for the first time in heated, starch-rich foods by Swedish researchers. In the body, acrylamide is converted into glycidamide. This substance is suspected of altering genetic material and causing cancer. According to new scientific findings, glycidamide can also be formed directly in foods when heated to high temperatures. However, these amounts are small compared to the amounts that can be converted from acrylamide in the body.
Acrylamide is formed by a reaction of sugar (glucose, fructose) with protein building blocks (amino acid asparagine) at a temperature of 120 °C and above. During heating and browning (Maillard reaction), not only desirable aroma and flavor substances are formed, but also acrylamide. Acrylamide is formed both during the industrial production of food and in the catering industry and during preparation in private households.
The following factors promote the formation of acrylamide:
- high temperatures (acrylamide is formed in smaller quantities already at about 120 °C)
- certain components of proteins and sugar
- low water content of the food
Acrylamide caused cancer in animal experiments. In addition, the genetic material was altered and, at higher doses, the animals' nerves were damaged and reproduction impaired. In humans, there is no clear evidence of a carcinogenic effect of acrylamide. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) of the World Health Organization (WHO) has classified acrylamide as probably carcinogenic for humans.
Situation in Austria
According to current knowledge, no value can be defined below which there is no risk to consumers, since acrylamide can damage genetic material or cause cancer. No legally regulated maximum level for acrylamide in food has been set either.
Since April 11, 2018, Commission Regulation VO (EU) 2017/2158 laying down minimization measures and guide levels for the reduction of acrylamide in food has been in force, obliging food businesses to take binding measures to reduce acrylamide levels, depending on the size and nature of their operations.
In addition, the lowered guideline values apply in the individual foodstuffs. If the guideline values are exceeded, the authorities are to investigate the cause of the elevated acrylamide levels together with the manufacturing plants and subsequently minimize them. For example, production and processing steps will be reviewed. The guide values do not refer to any risk to consumers.
In principle, the intake of acrylamide should be as low as possible for reasons of preventive health protection. The European Food and Drink Association (FoodDrinkEurope, formerly CIAA) published a guide ("Toolbox") that addresses all parameters that are important for acrylamide reduction in foods. This guide is to be followed by the manufacturing companies. For example, suitable raw materials (e.g. potato varieties with a low sugar content) should be selected or the food should not be prepared for too long or at too high a temperature (not above 170 °C).
In Austria, as in the other member states of the European Union, various foodstuffs are tested for their acrylamide content as part of official controls. In this way, more information on the occurrence of acrylamide and its background contamination is to be collected throughout Europe. These data serve as a basis for further measures or further research activities.
In the period from 2007 to 2015, we examined foodstuffs in Austria for their acrylamide content as part of priority actions. The results of the investigations are shown in Table 1.
Table 1: Acrylamide contents in Austrian food (the values are mean values from test results 2007 - 2015 in micrograms per kg food)
|Cookies, rusks, etc.
|Rösti, croquettes, etc.
The acrylamide monitoring program continued to be implemented in subsequent years and various products were tested for acrylamide. Not a single sample was objected to, and the guide values were exceeded in only two cases.
The basic rules for low-acrylamide baking, roasting and deep-frying in the home are "gilding instead of charring" and "golden yellow and not golden brown".
- Avoid over-browning during preparation. The more browned food is, the more acrylamide it contains
- Do not allow the surface to dry out too much
- When baking, frying and deep-frying potato and cereal products, use the lowest possible temperatures and short cooking times
- Acrylamide forms primarily on the surface of the food. Thicker chips and potato pieces, as well as large pastries, contain less acrylamide because they have a smaller surface area to volume ratio. Therefore, these products should be used more often
- Use gentle cooking methods such as steaming, boiling and pressure-cooking potatoes. As no significant amounts of acrylamide are produced in this way. In croquettes and gratins, only small amounts of acrylamide are produced due to the high water content.
Instructions recommended by manufacturing companies for baking, frying or deep-frying should be followed. When preparing smaller quantities of potatoes than indicated on the package, the preparation time should be reduced accordingly to avoid excessive browning.
The oven temperature should be in the range of 180-220 °C (with convection max. 180 °C, without convection 200 °C).
- Turn oven products after ten minutes or after half of the total baking time.
- The use of circulating air dries out the surface more quickly and results in greater acrylamide formation.
- To avoid strong browning from below, use baking paper.
- The baking time should be as long as necessary, but as short as possible, i.e. only until a golden yellow color is reached.
- Toast bread only briefly and lightly.
Avoid too dark browning, only fry until a golden yellow color is reached.
- Fry cereal and potato products at medium temperature. Fry only briefly and then reduce the temperature
- Fried potatoes made from cooked potatoes contain less acrylamide. If you still want to fry raw potatoes, you can soak the potato slices in water for about an hour. This reduces the sugar content, which is the starting substance for acrylamide, but vitamins and minerals are also lost.
The temperature should be in the range of 160-175 °C. Do not exceed 175 °C, even if higher temperatures are indicated on the packaging for French fries.
- Use frying oils and fats to shorten the frying process or to allow frying at low temperatures.
- Fry as briefly as possible until a golden yellow color is achieved
- If French fries are made from raw potatoes, one of the following measures should be applied before frying to reduce the sugar content:
- Wash and soak in cold water for 30 minutes to two hours and rinse in clean water before frying.
- Soak in warm water for a few minutes and rinse in clean water before frying.
- Blanch before frying to reduce acrylamide content.
Storage of raw potatoes
Even the storage conditions of potatoes have an impact on acrylamide formation. For products that are later heated to a high temperature (deep-fried, fried), potatoes should therefore be used that are as fresh as possible, have no green spots or sprouts, and are stored above 6 °C (not in the refrigerator). In addition, the degree of humidity should be high enough to limit sweetness due to aging as much as possible.
For adults, the average daily acrylamide intake is 0.15 µg/kg bw (body weight). Persons with high consumption take up 1.57 µg/kg bw/day. Potato chips and gingerbread account for the largest share of total exposure via food. Their relative share is 27 percent for potato chips and 18 percent for gingerbread (see figure). The fact that potato chips contribute most to acrylamide intake in adults is less due to their consumption (0.37 g/kg bw/day) than to the acrylamide levels measured (see Table 1). With 844 µg/kg, the highest mean values were found. In the case of gingerbread, the mean values are significantly lower at 292 µg/kg, but the higher consumption (0.73 g/kg bw/day), which is also seasonal, plays a role compared to potato chips.
The food category "Other products - potato products", which includes rösti, potato pancakes and croquettes, contributes 16 percent to the total intake. The measured contents mean (133 µg/kg) are rather in the lower range due to the higher water content, whereas adults consume higher amounts of these products.
Food categories that are also still important for total adult exposure include French fries, with a 15 percent relative share. Compared to potato products, average levels are slightly higher at 199 µg/kg, but consumption is lower.
The average acrylamide levels in roasted coffee (powder) are 250 µg/kg, and in solubles 678 µg/kg. However, because the preparation before consumption dilutes the acrylamide content, even the higher consumption plays a smaller role and accounts for 5 percent of the total intake. The remaining shares of total exposure in adults are accounted for by crispbread (7%), bread (mixed and rye bread ...) (6%), cookies, rusks and the like. (5 %) and breakfast cereals (1 %).
In children, the average daily intake of 0.29 µg/kg body weight is about twice that of adults. Children with high consumption consume 1.77 µg/kg body weight per day. As in adults, it is potato chips that contribute most to the total exposure via food in children, with a relative share of 30 percent (Table 1). Here, too, the high acrylamide content is the decisive factor rather than consumption.
Among children, on the other hand, it is French fries that contribute the second most to acrylamide intake, at 22 percent. This can be explained by the significantly higher consumption (1.43 g/kg bw/day). These two food categories already account for 52 percent of the total intake.
With a significantly lower share of 10 percent, crispbread and with 9 percent each cookies, rusks and the like as well as "other products - potato products" (hash browns, potato pancakes, croquettes) should be mentioned.
The highest amount of consumption can be observed for the food category bread (mixed and rye bread...). However, the share in the total exposure amounts to 8 percent, because the acrylamide contents (mean value 46 µg/kg) are low.
In contrast to the exposure of adults, gingerbread accounts for only 7 percent of the total intake, which is explained by the lower consumption. Breakfast cereals or coffee account for the remaining 4 percent or 1 percent.
How much acrylamide do you ingest with one serving of...
|Serving (in grams)
|Mean acrylamide content ( in µg/kg of food
|Acrylamide intake over one serving (in µg)
|1 small package of potato chips
|1 portion of French fries
|1 portion rösti
|1 piece of gingerbread
|1 slice of crispbread
|1 slice of bread
Acrylamide intake of the European population
In June 2015, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published a risk assessment on acrylamide in food. Experts from EFSA's Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain (CONTAM) evaluated 43,419 food analytical results reported by 24 EU countries and six food associations since 2010. However, acrylamide is not only present in foods; smoking also leads to acrylamide exposure. Intake from cosmetic products is considered negligible.
The following average acrylamide levels were found in the 24 EU countries: The highest levels are found in substitute coffee (dry 1,499 μg/kg) and instant coffee (dry 710 μg/kg). However, coffee and substitute products, respectively, are brewed with water, which means that lower acrylamide intake levels are to be expected. High average acrylamide concentrations are found in potato chips and snacks (389 μg/kg) and other fried potato products such as French fries (308 μg/kg). An average of 265 μg/kg was measured in cookies, crackers, crispbread and the like (gingerbread even 407 μg/kg). Breakfast cereals had average levels (161 µg/kg). Lower levels of acrylamide are found in cereal-based baby foods such as rusks and cookies (73 μg/kg), soft bread such as wheat, rye and multigrain bread (42 μg/kg), and other baby foods such as those with potatoes and root vegetables as the main ingredient (24 μg/kg) (EFSA 2015).
As part of the risk assessment published in June 2015, EFSA also updated its Europe-wide exposure assessment on acrylamide last carried out in 2011. This took into account more recent data on food consumption and acrylamide levels in food. According to these data, infants, toddlers and children consume the highest levels of acrylamide, with an average of 0.5 to 1.9 µg/kg body weight/day. Adolescents and adult European consumers have an average intake of 0.4 to 0.9 µg/kg body weight/day. These estimates are comparable to previous estimates.
Children consume most acrylamide from fried or roasted potato products (up to half of the total intake). Other sources include toast, breakfast cereals, cookies, crackers, and crispbread. The most common sources of acrylamide in young children are rusks and cookies. For adults, potato products (fried or deep-fried potatoes), coffee, cookies, crackers, crispbread as well as toast contribute the most to acrylamide intake. Other food categories, such as potato chips and snack foods, also contain high acrylamide concentrations. But their contribution to acrylamide intake is limited in an average, varied diet.
Last updated: 10.10.2023