Food businesses in the UK will be required to put in place practical steps to manage acrylamide within their food safety management systems under new EU legislation, which will apply from April 2018. FEJ reports.
The health dangers associated with acrylamide and furan, which are produced during high temperature cooking processes, have made national newspaper headlines over the past year. But the Food Standards Agency has been undertaking surveillance on acrylamide levels in food products since as far back as 2007.
Now it is playing a key role in introducing new European legislation to the market that will govern the way that the production of acrylamide is managed in catering environments. The new guidelines, due into force in April 2018, describe helpful measures based upon best practice guidance developed by the food industry to mitigate acrylamide formation in a range of foods.
Acrylamide forms naturally during high temperature cooking and processing, such as frying, roasting and baking, particularly in potato-based products and cereal-based products. Acrylamide is formed when foods containing the natural occurring amino acid asparagine and certain sugars are heated at temperatures greater than 120°C.
Although acrylamide does not occur in such foods subjected to lower temperatures and relatively short process times, such as boiled potatoes, it has been found in a wide range of home-cooked and processed foods, including potato crisps, French fries, bread, crispbreads and coffee.
Both acrylamide and furan have the potential to raise the risk of cancer, which will then increase with regular exposure to higher levels, over a lifetime.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has concluded that current levels of dietary exposure to acrylamide, furan and its methyl analogues such as 2-methyl furan and 3-methyl furan indicate a potential human health concern.
It is not possible to eliminate acrylamide from foods, but actions can be taken to try and ensure that acrylamide levels are as low as reasonably achievable. The FSA and Food Standards Scotland are working with the British Hospitality Association and other key stakeholders to develop simple guidance that will help the catering and foodservice sectors comply with new rules. Guidelines to aid understanding of the enforcement of the legislation are also available from this month.
The FSA considers that exposure to acrylamide and furans should be reduced to “as low as reasonably achievable” (ALARA). Operators will therefore be expected to be aware of acrylamide as a food safety hazard and have a general understanding of how acrylamide is formed during food production. They will also need to take the necessary steps to mitigate acrylamide formation in the food they produce and keep records of the mitigation measures undertaken, together with sampling plans and results of any testing.
The measures are proportionate to the nature and size of the business, to ensure that small and micro-businesses are not burdened.
Different requirements apply to local and independent operators selling food directly to the consumer or directly into local retail, including independent cafes, fish and chip shops and restaurants. For larger centrally-controlled and -supplied chains with standardised menus and operating procedures, the legislation reflects the fact that the controls of acrylamide can be managed from the centre. This would apply to large restaurants, hotels and café chains, for example.
Whatever their background, kitchen operators must be ready to adopt the rule changes and ensure the correct processes are in place across their business by April.
What food does the new legislation effect?
From April 2018, Commission Regulation (EU) 2017/2158 will take effect, leaving food business operators to put in place simple practical steps to manage acrylamide within their food safety management systems. This will ensure that acrylamide levels are as low as reasonably achievable in their food.
The new legislation applies to all operators that produce or place on the market the following foods:
• 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
• Breakfast cereals (excluding porridge)
• Fine bakery wares: cookies, biscuits, rusks, cereal bars, scones, cornets, wafers, crumpets and gingerbread, as well as crackers, crisp breads and bread substitutes
• Coffee, roast coffee and instant (soluble) coffee
• Coffee substitutes
Acrylamide: What obligations are there on foodservice operators in the UK?
1. To be aware of acrylamide as a food safety hazard and have a general understanding of how acrylamide is formed in the food they produce.
2. Take the necessary steps to mitigate acrylamide formation in the food they produce; adopting the relevant measures as part of their food safety management procedures.
3. Undertake representative sampling and analysis where appropriate, to monitor the levels of acrylamide in their products as part of their assessment of the mitigation measures.
4. Keep appropriate records of the mitigation measures undertaken, together with sampling plans and results of any testing
The ALMR’s view
The Association of Multiple Licensed Retailers (ALMR), which represents more than 20,000 pubs and restaurants, is working to ensure the new legislation is correctly applied in the industry, writes CEO Kate Nicholls.
“We are in dialogue with the FSA and other trade body partners to ensure that sector guidance is clear, realistic and imposes the minimum burden on eating and drinking out venues while safeguarding the identified health risks.
“The report accompanying [the FSA’s] announcement [on acrylamide] illustrates how the food industry, including eating out businesses across the UK, has made great strides in improving food safety for consumers. Our members take this issue very seriously and the report states that the industry has already developed best practice in this area that helps safeguard consumers.
“The report also acknowledges that the inconsistency of how food is cooked in the home presents a greater risk and that is where the FSA should focus its efforts. The majority of food is prepared and eaten in the home by untrained consumers, rather than by skilled and diligent chefs working in pubs, restaurants and other eating out venues.”