The federal Food and Drug Administration has issued a guidance document to help the food industry reduce levels of a potentially harmful chemical that can form when certain foods are cooked at high temperatures.
Scientists discovered the chemical acrylamide, which may be linked to cancer in high doses, in some fried and baked foods in 2002.
The guidance document is nonbinding and suggests no maximum tolerance levels. It merely highlights procedures to reduce acrylamide in french fries, potato chips and baked or fried grain products such as breakfast cereal, crackers and tortilla chips. Public comment on the document will be accepted through mid-January at www.regulations.gov.
Acrylamide forms from the chemical reaction of the amino acid asparagine and the class of sugars that includes glucose and fructose, known as reducing sugars.
The document suggests fryers use potato varieties with low levels of sugar and asparagine and sort out immature potatoes, which possess high levels of reducing sugars. It advises cutting away bruises, avoiding “cold sweetening” from prolonged cold storage and utilizing frying tests to monitor sugars.
FDA suggests processors may cut fatter fries to reduce fried surface area, decrease the frying temperature, adjust blanching practices and avoid using reducing sugars in fry dips after blanching.
The National Potato Council, U.S. Potato Board and processors issued a statement in support of the guidance document, emphasizing the potato industry has worked to reduce acrylamide since its discovery in 2002.
“We are pleased to note that the entire industry has made progress in reducing the formation of acrylamide by controlling the farming process, storage and processing conditions and by providing clear instruction on all retail and foodservice packaging for optimal cooking times and temperatures,” the statement reads.
Beth Johnson, food policy consultant with the Snack Food Association, said her organization has invited FDA to workshops to share existing and emerging technologies on acrylamide reduction. She said her members have already begun using low-acrylamide potato varieties, reducing frying temperatures and adding enzymes to prevent acrylamide formation in baked products.
“There is recognition by FDA that practices currently in place are working to reduce the acrylamide problem,” Johnson said.
American Frozen Food Institute spokesman Corey Henry said potato processors are using different methods to reduce acrylamide levels.
“In a lot of respects, many companies and food makers are ahead of the curve with respect to acrylamide and have appreciated the need to address this,” Henry said.
University of Wisconsin horticulture professor A.J. Bussan, lead on a $7.8 million USDA Specialty Crop Research Initiative grant entering its third year, has sought to address the acrylamide problem through potato breeding. He said 25 university and ARS breeding programs, including the ARS facility in Aberdeen, Idaho, are involved. Chipping companies are already using Lamoka, a low-acrylamide chip variety developed by Cornell University. Production has been limited by seed supply.
Bussan said the grant has resulted in promising breeding material and a better understanding of the genetics behind acrylamide formation.
“We’ve had close to a 60 percent reduction in acrylamide in some of the new processing potato clones we’ve been looking at,” Bussan said.