Cooked, especially starchy, food like potatoes, chips and fries, can contain acrylamide. Given that this food process contaminant is probably carcinogenic, data about the presence of acrylamide in various foodstuffs is a necessity. This project focussed on filling the data gaps for understudied food and answered the question whether or not the cooking method and practices of the Belgian population have an effect on the formation of acrylamide.
Acrylamide is a food processing contaminant categorised as probably carcinogenic and is generated during the cooking of especially, but not limited to, starchy food. The aim of this project was to:
- investigate the occurrence data for acrylamide in less studied food groups
- identify the potential food categories with abnormally high or unexpected acrylamide concentrations
- identify the impact of different cooking methods on the production of acrylamide in food and
- identify the impact of different cooking practices of the Belgian population on the production of acrylamide in food.
With the obtained knowledge, a more refined exposure assessment of the Belgian population and the risk for human health for a particular food category was determined.
The food categories included in Recommendation (EU) 2019/1888 and the EFSA call of 2019, were investigated. In total, 217 samples, ranging from pommes duchesse to olives, bakery ware, cacao powder and coffee substitutes were purchased on the Belgian market and the acrylamide content was determined. To this end, sensitive analytical methods (LOQ of 20 µg/kg) have been developed and validated, allowing accurate quantification. After extraction of acrylamide from the food and subsequent clean-up, the extracts were analysed by liquid chromatography in combination with triple quadrupole tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS).
High and unexpected acrylamide concentrations
Overall, the determined concentration were in accordance with the EFSA opinion of 2015 and other scientific studies. However, some food groups need particular attention or need to be investigated further:
- very high acrylamide levels, up to 4 times the benchmark level fixed for potato chips, were detected in vegetable chips
- black olives that have undergone oxidation treatment should be considered for further investigation.
The samples selected in this project have allowed the comparison of different preparation methods on acrylamide formation. When the potato based products were prepared by frying, strictly following the preparation instructions present on the label, the acrylamide concentration were up to 25 times higher compared to the preparation in the oven. Based on this study, it was demonstrated that the preparation should be stopped when a ‘golden colour’ is obtained. This is also recommended in Regulation (EU) 2017/2158 to meet the benchmark level fixed for similar food products such as French fries.
Exposure and risk assessment
The analytical results (i.e. mean and highest concentration in every food category) were used for a dietary intake assessment of the Belgian population for acrylamide by combining them with the results of the latest Belgian Food Consumption Survey in a upper bound scenario. Overall, it can be concluded that the exposure to acrylamide is lower compared to the intake assessment reported by EFSA.
Next, the major contributors among the analysed food products were determined. For all age groups, the intake assessment originates mostly from grain- and grain-based products. This also brings the conclusion that food analysed in the project (food groups like bakery ware, pancakes, various type of bread, potato croquettes for example) could be important sources of acrylamide exposure.
Finally, the risk associated with dietary exposure to acrylamide was evaluated for the Belgian population. As acrylamide is probably genotoxic, no Tolerably Daily Intake (TDI) could have been established. Therefore, the risk characterization was performed using the Margin of Exposure approach (MOE). Following this approach, it can be concluded that exposure to acrylamide is not of concern regarding neurotoxic effects. However, the MOEs based on the current levels of dietary exposure to acrylamide indicate a concern with respect to neoplastic effects.