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New food safety rules on acrylamide levels

All food businesses operators (FBOs) are currently required to put in place simple practical steps to manage acrylamide within their food safety management systems. This ensures that acrylamide levels are as low as reasonably achievable in their food.

Acrylamide is a chemical substance formed when starchy foods, such as potatoes and bread, are cooked at high temperatures (above 120°C). It can be formed when foods are baked, fried, grilled, toasted or roasted. Laboratory tests show that acrylamide in the diet causes cancer in animals and scientists agree that acrylamide in food has the potential to cause cancer in humans as well.

Current food safety legislation governing acrylamide levels in the UK is contained in EU Regulation 2017/2158 (Regulations) which was retained as part of UK law following Brexit. FBOs are expected to do the following:

  • be aware of acrylamide as a food safety hazard and have a general understanding of how acrylamide is formed in the food they produce;
  • 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;
  • 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; and
  • keep appropriate records of the mitigation measures undertaken, together with sampling plans and results of any testing.

The Regulations also set out benchmark levels (BMLs) which are generic performance indicators for the food categories covered by the Regulations. They are not maximum limits and are not intended to be used for enforcement purposes.  BMLs are to be used by FBOs to gauge the success of their mitigation measures. Under the BMLs, food and drink manufacturers need to aim for ‘As Low As Reasonably Achievable’ (ALARA) acrylamide levels.

Under proposed new EU legislation, these benchmarks would be adjusted and maximum levels would be introduced alongside them. If products exceed the proposed maximum levels the consequences for the FBOs would be far more stringent than if the BMLs are exceeded currently. The draft legislation also proposes new food substances to be monitored, including root vegetable fries, fruit crisps, cocoa powder and potato based dishes such as croquettes. It is thought that the new legislation will come into force sometime in 2023.

It is unclear whether the UK will follow suit and adopt the same approach and introduce maximum levels but, even if it does not, FBOs that export products to the European Union and sell products in Northern Ireland will be affected by the new legislation.

In preparation, FBOs should consider whether or not their products would comply with the new maximum levels of acrylamide allowed and if they do not, then a reformulation of the product may be necessary. FBOs should also familiarise themselves with the new products being added to the benchmark monitoring system to ensure that they can comply with these new food safety rules.

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