FDA Issues Final Guidance Regarding Reducing Acrylamide in Certain Foods
On Thursday, March 10, 2016, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued final guidance regarding steps that growers, manufacturers, and food service operators in the food industry can take to help reduce levels of acrylamide in certain foods. Acrylamide is a chemical that can form during the cooking of some foods from the combination of sugars and asparagine, an amino acid, at high-temperatures. It is primarily a by-product of cooking foods made from plants, such as potato products, grain products and coffee. Acrylamide can also be produced industrially for use in products such as plastics, grouts, water treatment supplements and cosmetics. It is also found in cigarette smoke.
Acrylamide in food is a concern because the National Toxicology Program (NTP) has characterized the substance as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen based on sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity from studies in experimental animals.” Acrylamide is also a Proposition 65 listed chemical. It was added to the Proposition 65 list in 1990 as a compound known to cause cancer, and in February 2011, as a chemical known to cause reproductive toxic and developmental effects. Once a chemical is listed under Proposition 65, businesses are required to provide a “clear and reasonable” warning before “knowingly and intentionally” exposing anyone to the listed chemical. This warning can be given by a variety of means, including labeling of a consumer product. The food industry has seen a recent increase in Proposition 65 lawsuits alleging failure to warn of the presence of Proposition 65 listed chemicals on premises and in foods.
The FDA guidance suggests a range of possible approaches to reducing acrylamide levels in foods, but does not specifically recommend any approaches to doing so. It also does not identify any specific maximum recommended level or action level for acrylamide. The FDA guidance focuses on raw materials, processing practices, and ingredients pertaining to potato-based foods (such as french fries and potato chips), cereal-based foods (such as cookies, crackers, breakfast cereals and toasted bread), and coffee. The FDA guidance recommends that food manufacturers provide appropriate cooking instructions on packages for foods the preparation of which tends to result in the creation of acrylamide, such as frozen french fries, to guide consumers and food service operators in proper preparation to help reduce acrylamide.
The FDA also recommends educating food service workers regarding proper frying techniques, selecting potato varieties that are low in reducing sugars for frying or roasting, and avoiding overly dry or crusty products. Although the FDA guidance is intended as nonbinding suggestions, we expect to see reference to these guidelines in any future failure to warn or personal injury claims brought against food manufacturers, processors, and/or food service industries alleging exposure to high levels of acrylamide.