Those not familiar with acrylamide may not know that it is actually a processing contaminant. Processing contaminants are generated during the processing cycle of a product and are formed when a chemical reaction takes place between the food and processing (e.g., disinfection, fermentation, heating, canning, or grilling). Examples of these contaminants include acrylamide, PAHs, oxyhalides, and haloacetic acids.
Acrylamide in Food
Acrylamide is a genotoxic compound found in fried or baked goods that are heated to a temperature above 120 degrees Celsius (248 degrees Fahrenheit), but not in foods prepared below this temperature. It is produced when asparagine, an amino acid, reacts with reducing sugars, such as fructose or glucose, or carbonyl compounds. The formation of acrylamide is part of the Maillard reaction (info on Maillard Reaction), which leads to browning and flavor changes in cooked foods. Along with frying, roasting and baking, browning while cooking also produces acylamide, as does overcooking.
In addition, acrylamide is a chemical used in making polyacrylamide and acrylamide copolymers which are used in many industrial processes (production of paper, dyes, and plastics) and also found in some consumer products.
Discovery of Acrylamide in Food & Ensuing Regulations
Acrylamide was discovered in foods in 2002 by Sweden scientists when they found the chemical in starchy foods that had been heated higher than 120° C (248° F) and under conditions of low moisture. At that time acrylamide was known to be used in industrial products but little was known about its presence in foods. Evidence from animal studies shows that acrylamide and its metabolite glycidamide are genotoxic and carcinogenic, they damage DNA and cause cancer.
In their June 4, 2015 press release, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has reconfirmed previous evaluations that acrylamide in food potentially increases the risk of developing cancer for consumers in all age groups (link to PR). The EFSA press release states that “the most important food groups contributing to acrylamide exposure are fried potato products, coffee, biscuits, crackers, crisp bread and soft bread.” Interestingly, acrylamide is also present in tobacco smoke.
The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has a dedicated webpage on acrylamide in food and how cut down consumption of the chemical.
Reducing Consumption of Acrylamide
So what can we as consumer do to cut down on our intake of foods with acrylamide? According to the Grocery Manufacturers Association, acrylamide is found in 40% of the calories consumed in the average American diet. Hence, for starters we can reduce the intake of certain fried foods.
The U.S. FDA recommends the following the below tips to limit the amount of acrylamide that you consume:
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- As frying causes acrylamide formation. If frying frozen fries, follow manufacturers’ recommendations on time and temperature and avoid overcooking, heavy crisping or burning.
- Toast bread to a light brown color rather than a dark brown color and avoid very brown areas.
- Cook cut potato products, such as frozen french fries, to a golden yellow color rather than a brown color. Brown areas tend to contain more acrylamide.
- Do not store potatoes in the refrigerator, which can increase acrylamide during cooking. Keep potatoes outside the refrigerator in a dark, cool place, such as a closet or a pantry.
Testing Solutions for Acrylamide
Since the acrylamide content in some samples can be particularly high, sample preparation methods for acrylamide determination often use multiple cleanup steps, such as liquid extraction, centrifugation, and solid-phase extraction. Automated extraction using an Accelerated Solvent Extraction (ASE) system decreases the time, labor, and solvent required to prepare samples for analysis.
Acrylamide can be separated using ion-exclusion chromatography or reversed-phase liquid chromatography, and determined by UV or mass spectrometry detection. Acrylamide can also be determined by SPE and GC-MS or ASE followed by LC-MS/MS.
Check out the following downloadable solutions for the analysis of acrylamide.
Application Note 409: Fast Determination of Acrylamide in Food Samples Using Accelerated Solvent Extraction Followed by Ion Chromatography with UV or MS Detection
The method presented here consists of a fast, automated extraction method using accelerated solvent extraction. Samples were extracted in 20 min using pure water, water with 10 mM formic acid, or acetonitrile. The extracts were directly analyzed by ion chromatography using a 4-mm ion-exclusion column and both UV and MS detection. With this column, acrylamide is retained longer than on conventional reversed-phase columns, allowing separation from the many co-extractable compounds present in food samples.
Potato chips were extracted using porous graphitic carbon for solid phase extraction (SPE). Analysis of acrylamide was performed using GC-MS on a polyethylene glycol phase GC column. A standard addition calibration curve was used to estimate the level of acrylamide in potato chips at 450 ng/g.
Application Note 358: Extraction and Cleanup of Acrylamide in Complex Matrices Using Accelerated Solvent Extraction Followed by Liquid Chromatography Tandem Mass Spectrometry (LC-MS/MS)
This application note describes a new accelerated solvent extraction method that combines the extraction of low-levels of acrylamide from coffee and chocolate with an in-cell, solid-phase cleanup step followed by LC-MS/MS.
Well I have stopped eating the ever so delicious French fries; now I guess it’s time to stop eating those burnt crispy toasts that I’ve acquired a taste for over the years!