This year marks the 20th anniversary of the discovery of acrylamide in common foods such as biscuits, cookies, potato chips, coffee and a number of other cereal and potato-based products cooked at high temperatures (>120°C) in low humidity conditions.
Acrylamide is a natural component of the browning effect – also known as the Maillard reaction – between amino acids and reducing sugars when heated. It is also considered a carcinogen and in 2018 EU legislation brought the BML for biscuits and biscuits below 350 parts per billion (ppb).
However, recent tests have shown that many samples have exceeded this limit.
“Current legislation states that food manufacturers must apply practical steps in their production in accordance with the ALARA principle, which aims to be ‘as low as reasonably achievable’.” said Kees Veeke, Baking Enzymes Technical Service Manager at DSM.
Although Veeke believes most food manufacturers are aware of the levels of acrylamide in their products, many still struggle to meet reference levels.
“This is due to variations in recipes and ingredients that can cause acrylamide to vary from 50 parts per billion to 7,000 parts per billion. Biscuits and cookies have different levels of acrylamide, and it can be very difficult for manufacturers to monitor this [of multiple lines].”
It comes down to the type of flour used – “The level of asparagine between white flour and wholemeal flour can vary depending on the effect of wholemeal flour, and this automatically leads to higher levels of acrylamide as well” – to different types of sugar concentration – “Fructose is much more reactive compared to glucose, for example, and therefore contributes significantly to the production of acrylamide.
“Also, we have water and activities. Water is needed to activate enzymes … to make it productive. Water is also needed to improve the extraction of asparagine and, for example, rotary-made cookies do not use as much water, which makes it very difficult for manufacturers.’
Long before the pandemic – but certainly exacerbated by it – consumers have been interested in the role of food in their health and well-being, and Wiecke believes most people today are aware of acrylamide and its potential effects.
In 1994, it was classified as a “probable” human carcinogen (group 2A) by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Exposure to industrial levels can cause nerve damage, including muscle weakness and muscle incoordination, but it’s much more than what’s in food. Research also shows that chronic exposure to diet can damage nerve cells in the brain and could potentially play a role in the development a neurodegenerative disease such as Alzheimer’s disease.
However, scientists admit the body of evidence in humans is still hazy,even after 20 years of research. In fact, a systematic review published in Frontiers of Nutrition in April 2022 even concluded that no association between high exposure to acrylamide in food and an increased risk of any of the cancers studied, including cancer of the mouth, esophagus, stomach, rectum and colon, pancreas, prostate, bladder, lung, kidney, lymphoma, myeloma, thyroid , brain, larynx and melanoma.
Acrylamide levels across the EU have been subject to a benchmarking system since 2018, but exceeding the benchmark does not mean that the product cannot be placed on the market. Under this system, producers are instructed to aim for acrylamide levels as low as possible (ALARA), and if the BML is exceeded, to review their mitigation measures and work to reduce levels.
However, 64% of consumers express interest in the impact of food on their health, so manufacturers of bakery products and snacks cannot afford to ignore this obstacle.
“Consumers these days are gathering more information about their daily diet – with greater access to a variety of sources such as social media – and are very interested in knowing what they’re actually eating.
“Those who know about acrylamide are very concerned, especially for the health of children.”
What’s in store?
The EU Regulation 2017/2158 on acrylamide will be renewed in 2023 and is expected to adjust the BML and introduce new maximum levels. According to Veeke, the current reference level of 350 parts per million in biscuits and cookies will drop to 300 parts per million with a maximum level of 500 parts per million.
If production exceeds the proposed maximum levels, the consequences are expected to be much more severe than if the BML is currently exceeded.
The new legislation is also predicted to include new categories, including potato chips, fruit crisps, cocoa powder and potato dishes such as rosti and croquettes. In 2019 The EU expanded the list of bakery products controlled to include pita and specialty breads, pancakes, tortillas, churros, donuts and croissants. It also covers a wide range of buns, including hamburgers and whole wheat buns.
Help is at hand
Fortunately, manufacturers have a number of sources and mitigation techniques to help them cut through the quagmire, such as DSM’s smart cookie guide.
“Our Cookie Smart Guide is a compilation of our experience and know-how gained over two decades in acrylamide mitigation. We want our customers to better understand the formulations and processes they can use, [especially] optimal efficiency of our enzyme solution”,– said Vike.
“Enzymes are recognized as one of the best solutions, in this case, for mitigating the effects of acrylamide, but if you look at the bigger picture, enzymes are natural proteins [that] appear all around us. They are actually biocatalysts; they are biodegradable; and they are able to transform a product into another product naturally.
“In this case, asparaginase converts asparagine into aspartic acid, and by doing that, you turn off the factor that promotes the Maillard reaction, which helps reduce acrylamide levels. Enzymes can also help delay the rancidity of bread, for example, but also keep baked goods fresher for longer.
He added, “For acrylamide reduction, asparaginases are an ideal solution because they do not require significant changes in formulation or process. So it’s almost like a plug and play solution.
DSM’s PreventASe enzyme – suitable for recipes ranging from savory croutons to sweet crispy wafers – allows manufacturers to reduce acrylamide by 90% in crispy wafers, by 80% in biscuits and by 80%-87% in baby biscuits.
American Chemical Society, 22 Aug 2007
By Janneke GF Hogervorst and Leo J Schouten
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2022, nqac192
Authors: Tommaso Filippini, Thorhallur I. Halldorsson, Carolina Capitão and others.
Front. Nutr., Apr. 25, 2022, ch. Epidemiology of nutrition
https://www.bakeryandsnacks.com/Article/2022/09/15/Changes-to-acrylamide-regulations-in-2023-What-biscuit-and-cookie-manufacturers-need-to-know2?utm_source=RSS_Feed&utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=RSS What biscuit and biscuit manufacturers need to know