The Centre for Food Safety (CFS) and the Consumer Council conducted a joint study on acrylamide in food with the aims to reassess the level of acrylamide in high temperature processed carbohydrate-rich foods available in local market, and to explore methods to reduce formation of acrylamide in foods prepared at home.
2. Acrylamide is an inadvertent contaminant in food formed during high temperature cooking of carbohydrate-rich foods. This was first discovered in 2002 when a Swedish study revealed that relatively high levels of acrylamide were formed during frying or baking of starch-containing foods such as potatoes and cereal products.
3. Acrylamide is a potentially cancer causing chemical. Prior to the announcement of the Swedish studies, the major public health concerns of acrylamide were from occupational and accidental exposures through inhalation and skin contact, and contamination of the chemical in drinking water.
4. In response to the Swedish findings, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended the scientific community and food industry to conduct more research to explore ways to reduce the level of acrylamide in food. On the basis of information available on acrylamide, FAO and WHO reconfirm that the general advice on healthy eating remains valid and encourage consumers to eat balanced and varied diet, to eat more fruits and vegetables, and to moderate the consumption of fried and fatty foods so as to reduce the intake of foods high in acrylamide.
FEHD's previous studies
5. In 2003, FEHD conducted studies on acrylamide level in a variety of local foods and found that snack foods subject to high temperature processing (e.g. potoato chips) generally contained significantly higher amount of acrylamide than staple foods (e.g. fried rice, fried noodles). The full reports are available from our website at:
http://www.fehd.gov.hk/english/pestcontrol/report/acrylamide/index.html and http://www.fehd.gov.hk/english/pestcontrol/report/fried_fritters/index.html.
The current study
6. The current joined study with the Consumer Council reassessed the level of acrylamide in snack foods and some traditional local foods. A total of 113 samples particularly fried and baked carbohydrate-based snacks and beverages were collected. In response to WHO's recommendation, this study also explored methods to reduce formation of acrylamide in foods prepared at home.
7. The laboratory analyses for acrylamide level were conducted by the Food Research Laboratory of CFS. For exploring home cooking methods in reducing acrylamide formation, taro pieces deep-fried under different conditions were studied.
8. Results revealed that higher acrylamide levels were found in potato crisps, chips, and biscuits. The acrylamide levels of potato chips range from 33 to 1000 μg/kg which were lower than those found in 2003 by FEHD which ranged from 1300 to 1700 μg/kg. This reflects that some trade members have already taken the efforts in reducing the level of acrylamide in their food products.
9. Within same food items such as biscuits and crisps, the acrylamide level varies greatly from <10 to 2600 μg/kg, this indicated that there is room for reducing acrylamide level in some of these products.
10. Some wheat based, rice based, soy based foods and nuts, including traditional Chinese snacks, and coffee were generally found to contain lower amount of acrylamide.
11. In the deep-fried taro experiment, results showed that acrylamide formation increases with time of frying and temperature. Taro pieces coated with a thin starch batter consistently showed lower levels of acrylamide as compared with those without coating when fried at same temperature and time combination.
12. To minimise the risk of acrylamide, food should not be cooked excessively, such as cooked for too long or at too high temperature. Food industries are encouraged to research and develop methods to reduce acrylamide in foods particularly potato crisps, chips and biscuits. The public are recommended to eat more fruits and vegetables and to moderate the consumption of fried and fatty foods.
Risk Assessment Section
Centre for Food Safety
Food and Environmental Hygiene Department
For the study report (only available in Chinese), please click the following website:
"Acrylamide in Fried and Baked Food (Chinese version)"
For more information on acrylamide, please click the following website:
"Acrylamide in Food"