Potato Industry Associations React to Regulation on Acrylamide Levels
Measures to reduce acrylamide levels in food took a step forward as new draft proposals outline “benchmark” mandatory levels for the industry.
The draft project, published on the European Commission (EC) website, asks for producers to apply mitigation measures to reduce the levels of the chemical in products such as French fries, other cut (deep fried) products and sliced potato crisps from fresh potatoes; potato crisps, snacks, crackers and other potato products from potato dough; and other baked goods and coffee.
When the benchmark levels are exceeded, food business operators shall review the mitigation measures applied and adjust processes and controls, according to the project. Food business operators shall take into account the safety of foodstuffs, specific production and geographic conditions or product characteristics in view of achieving the benchmark levels.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has published its scientific opinion on acrylamide in food. Experts from EFSA’s Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain (CONTAM) have reconfirmed previous evaluations that acrylamide in food potentially increases the risk of developing cancer for consumers in all age groups. This conclusion has not changed since the draft opinion was made available for an open public consultation in July 2014. Evidence from animal studies shows that acrylamide and its metabolite glycidamide are genotoxic and carcinogenic: they damage DNA and cause cancer, according to EFSA.
In a feedback published on the EC website, the Norwegian Consumer Council (NCC) thanks for the opportunity to comment on the draft regulation aiming to reduce the presence of acrylamide in food and recommends rephrasing the wording in order to avoid any ambiguity on the reality of the Commission’s intention of setting legally binding maximum limits for acrylamide in certain foods.
The NCC would therefore welcome the inclusion of the mitigation technique of lactic acid in the revised regulation’s Annex.
Lactic acid bath has proven effective for acrylamide reduction in the production and preparation of French fries. The Commission is very well acquainted with this technology, as the Norwegian FSA organized a presentation of the technology for the Commission and the MS Expert Group.
Furthermore, the Finnish Food and Drink Industries’ Federation (hereafter ETL) also welcomes the establishing of mitigation methods for different product types where acrylamide is present.
ETL explains that for potato chips, the climate and growing season has an adverse effect on those features affecting the overall acrylamide content in potato chips. Cold storage season (winter) and short growing season tend to lead to high levels of reducing sugars in potato tubers leading to high levels of acrylamide in potato products. Regional potato variety development has and is being done with slim results so far.
“ETL stresses the need of taking regional conditions in to account when assessing the necessity of certain mitigation methods. For example, the use of chemical substances to suppress sprouting has not been seen necessary since cool (winter) storage conditions prevent sprouting. Not using sprouting suppressing agents is also a measure preventing overall exposure to chemicals. Also, the change of raw material or ingredient should not lead to poor or lesser nutritional quality at the cost of lower acrylamide levels. Bearing in mind, the food industry is committed on reformulation and improving the nutritional quality of foods,” writes the Federation.
On the other hand, the Finnish Frozen Food and Potato Association ((hereafter F&P) have written that the suggested benchmark level 750 µg/kg for potato crisps is too low and cause major problems both for local Finnish potato primary production and food processing. “The acrylamide level should stay at 1000 µg/kg for potato crisps. No health problems reported so far and the recent level is already cutting out the high acrylamide levels from production. Potato crisps are minor products and not part of daily diet,” according to the Association.
The experts add that regional potato variety development has being done with slim results so far. “Selecting and testing available varieties is also done. When the sugar levels in potato are low, the potato yield is also low. This is not an interesting solution for the farmers. EU Commission should not risk local production possibilities,” adds the F&P.
The European Snacks Association (ESA) supports legislation in this area which would legally oblige food businesses to apply mitigation measures, as part of their existing food safety management systems, to reduce acrylamide levels in their finished products.
ESA notes that the association is very concerned that the proposed benchmark level for potato crisps made from sliced potatoes is 750 μg/kg. “We believe that this level is simply too low for it to be achievable for FBOs across the full year, especially given seasonal and regional differences across Europe. The 750 μg/kg figure appears to be based solely upon the aggregated data supplied by ESA members, where awareness of the mitigation measures is very high and data from across Europe is pooled. It does not reflect the typically higher values that have been reported by member states (85th percentile at 991 μg/kg) and within some regions as a result of local environmental conditions. Setting the benchmark at this level is likely to significantly disadvantage FBOs in countries with shorter growing seasons and a greater reliance upon stored raw materials,” ESA writes.
The European Potato Trade Association (Europatat), as suppliers of the raw potato ingredients for some of the products covered by the Regulation, comments will only focus on the section of the Annex referring to raw potatoes. Europatat is suggesting that the text at Annex page 2 is amended to read as follows “Food business operators (hereinafter ‘FBOs’) shall identify and use the potato varieties that are suitable for the product type and where the content of acrylamide precursors, such as reducing sugars (fructose and glucose) and asparagine is the lowest for the regional conditions.”
Europatat is suggesting that the text at Annex page 2 is amended to read as follows “FBOs shall specify transport specifications in terms of temperature and duration, especially if outside temperatures are significantly lower than the temperature regime applied during storage.”
The European Potato Processors’ Association (EUPPA) writes that, from the discovery of acrylamide in food in 2002, EUPPA has been actively involved in the acrylamide dossier by supporting the development and sharing of knowledge and tools to mitigate acrylamide in food. One of its objectives is to support and enable the customers to manage acrylamide levels when potato products are cooked in their restaurants or by consumers at home. Our website www.goodfries.eu is the best example of the professional guidance and practical tools developed for this purpose.
Based on this, we propose some adjustments to the EC proposal as formulated below:
Food business operators (hereinafter ‘FBOs’) shall identify and use the potato varieties that are suitable for the product type and where the content of acrylamide precursors, such as reducing sugars (fructose and glucose) and asparagine is the lowest for the regional conditions.
FBOs shall specify the potato transport conditions in terms of temperature and duration, especially if outside temperatures are significantly lower than the temperature regime applied during storage.
FBOs shall remove immature tubers having a low underwater weight and high reducing sugar levels. The removal can be done by passing tubers through a salt brine or similar systems which make immature tubers float, or by pre-washing or sorting potatoes to detect inferior tubers.
FBOs shall control the color of the final product by performing color checks on the final cooked product. If needed after blanching, controlled addition of dextrose enables meeting the finished colour specification.
Controlled addition of dextrose after blanching, which removes excessive natural sugars, results in lower acrylamide levels in the final cooked product at the same color as observed in unblanched products with only naturally accumulated reducing sugars.
According to EUPPA, FBOs producing potato products shall apply the following mitigation measures:
– French fries and other cut (deep fried) potato products:
– Before the frying process:
– Where possible, raw potato strips shall be washed and soaked for a few minutes in warm water; rinse the strips in clean water before frying.
– For frozen or chilled potato products cooking instructions shall be followed, as provided by the manufacturer.
– When frying French fries or other cut potato products:
– Cooking oil shall be used which allows to fry quicker and/or at lower temperatures. Cooking oil suppliers shall be consulted for the best suited oil.
– Frying temperatures shall be maximum 175°C and in any case as low as possible, taking into account the food safety requirements.
– Frying oil quality shall be maintained by skimming frequently to remove fines, crumbs and frying dust.