2011-2013 Acrylamide in Selected Foods

Executive Summary

The Food Safety Action Plan (FSAP) aims to modernize and enhance Canada's food safety system. As part of the FSAP enhanced surveillance initiative, targeted surveys are used to generate data in order to evaluate various foods for specific hazards.

Acrylamide may be unintentionally formed in carbohydrate-rich foods that are cooked at high temperatures (e.g. fried, baked, toasted, grilled, or roasted), and/or processed at lower temperatures (e.g. sterilized, dried, preserved). Additionally, acrylamide may be present in bottled water if the source water has been treated with acrylamide-containing coagulants. Acrylamide is classified as 'probably carcinogenic to humans' by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Health Canada's Bureau of Chemical Safety concurs with the opinion of the Joint Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization Expert Committee on Food Additives which have indicated that the current levels of acrylamide exposure from food represent a potential human health concern.

The main objectives of the 2011-2013 FSAP Acrylamide in Selected Foods survey were to generate baseline surveillance data on acrylamide levels in a defined set of food commodities, and to compare these levels to the previous FSAP survey on acrylamide (2010-11) and to similar surveys performed by Health Canada (HC) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

There are currently no regulations in Canada specifying maximum levels of acrylamide in foods. There are, however, guidelines in the United States limiting the use of acrylamide-based coagulants for the treatment of drinking water. Additionally, the European Union has established a set of indicative levels designed to trigger investigations into food products containing elevated levels of acrylamide. As part of ongoing efforts to limit intake of acrylamide to "As Low As Reasonably Achievable" (ALARA Principle) levels, there are several guidance documents available: the Code of Practice for the Reduction of Acrylamide in Foods (CAC/RCP 67-2009) from Codex Alimentarius and the 2013 Acrylamide Toolbox from FoodDrinkEurope are two internationally-recognized examples. Health Canada's Bureau of Chemical Safety has also published acrylamide reduction strategies that consumers can follow when preparing foods in the home. Given the wide variety of processes, procedures, and types of raw materials, the means of implementing the ALARA Principle will be company-specific.

A total of 2284 food products were sampled and tested for acrylamide content. The food products were divided into three main categories: grain-based foods, fruit/vegetable-based foods, and assorted foods (e.g. syrup/molasses, bottled water). Most of the samples tested (87%) contained detectable levels of acrylamide. More specifically, 72% of assorted foods, 84% of fruit/vegetable-based foods, and 95% of grain-based foods tested positive for acrylamide. The acrylamide levels ranged from the method reporting limit of 5 parts-per-billion (ppb) to a maximum of 7100 ppb. The category with the highest average acrylamide level was syrup/molasses (1289 ppb), while the category with the lowest average acrylamide level was infant cereal (18 ppb).

In general, the prevalence of acrylamide and the range of observed acrylamide levels were comparable between the current and previous FSAP surveys and in comparison to HC and FDA surveys for similar products.

All the data generated were shared with Health Canada's Bureau of Chemical Safety for use in performing human health risk assessments. Health Canada indicated that, given the chronic nature of the potential hazard represented by acrylamide and considering the overall levels of acrylamide found, the levels of acrylamide observed in this survey would not be expected to pose a safety concern. Health Canada continues to encourage the food industry to further pursue reduction efforts for acrylamide in processed foods. Health Canada's on-going risk management efforts relating to acrylamide in foods may also involve follow-up with food manufacturers when products are found to contain notably and/or consistently elevated levels of acrylamide relative to other, similar foods available on the Canadian market.

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