About Acrylamide

Acrylamide has been classified by different global health authorities as a carcinogen and neurotoxin, genotoxin and reproductive toxin. It has been categorized by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a Group 2A carcinogen; these substances are officially termed “probably carcinogenic to humans.” In April 2002, Swedish scientists surprised the world by announcing the discovery of significant quantities of naturally occurring acrylamide in a variety of baked, fried, and toasted foods. They found that an amino acid naturally present in carbohydrate-rich foods (asparagine) is converted to the carcinogen acrylamide when subjected to temperatures over 120°C (248°F). This prompted immense media coverage and immediate reaction from governments worldwide. Today, the list of manufactured food products in our daily diet contaminated with acrylamide is long and includes bread, toasted bread, potato chips, French fries, crackers, breakfast cereals, baby food, breaded meat products, and coffee, among others. 

Importantly, the acrylamide contamination can increase after the product leaves the food manufacturing facility. Once products such as bread and cereals are available in stores, any remaining asparagine can be further converted into acrylamide through consumer and restaurant food preparation processes such as toasting and frying. For example, in-house Renaissance studies have shown that toasting traditional sliced bread (which may have low acrylamide levels) results in up to a 10-fold increase in acrylamide content in the final toast compared to the pre-toasted bread. This finding highlights the critical importance of greatly reducing asparagine content at source during the food manufacturing process.

Children most at risk

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the acrylamide issue is that each day children consume twice as much acrylamide as adults consume. According to Health Canada’s Canadian Exposure Assessment for Acrylamide in Food report released in 2012, “for young children 6-11 years of age, the average exposure is roughly twice the adult exposure”. This is because children each day eat disproportionately larger amounts of acrylamide-rich cereals, breads, toast, and potato products such as French fries and potato chips. Another concern is the effect of prenatal acrylamide exposure on child development. Alarmingly, recent studies have shown that expectant mothers’ consumption of acrylamide during pregnancy is linked to reduced baby birth weight, which is a key negative indicator of future health. 

“For young children 6-11 years of age, the average exposure is roughly twice the adult exposure.” Health Canada August 2012

How it forms

Acrylamide is formed in many carbohydrate rich foods and is pervasive in many commonly consumed foods. Scientists have determined that acrylamide forms in food cooked at temperatures above 120°C (248°F) as a result of a chemical reaction between the amino acid asparagine found in carbohydrate foods and reducing sugars such as glucose and fructose. Boiling does not cause acrylamide formation, as the water temperature is just above 100°C and below the 120°C threshold.  

The highest concentrations of acrylamide have been detected in potato chips and French fries, with high levels also being measured in breakfast cereals, crackers, breads, and other grain-based products. Coffee is another significant source of acrylamide. End user preparation in the home and restaurants provide an additional risk of greatly increased acrylamide levels through toasting, grilling, frying and baking. For example, our in-house testing shows that toasting sliced bread can result in a 10-fold increase in acrylamide content. In order to more fully delineate the extensive health risks presented by acrylamide to children and adults, additional studies are in progress around the world.