Hot Potato: Acrylamide concerns in New Zealand

By Ankush Chibber

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: French fries, Potato

Hot chips: Worst acrylamide offenders?
Hot chips: Worst acrylamide offenders?
A New Zealand report has found varied acrylamide concentrations in particular foods, with potato-based foods the worst offenders.

The report aimed to provide data on the levels of acrylamide - a potential human carcinogen, which was found by Swedish researchers in 2002 to occur in carbohydrate-rich foods that are cooked at high temperature - in risk foods.

An emphasis was placed on potato-based products being the major contributors to acrylamide exposure, followed by cereal-based foods, and then all other foods during January and February 2011.

It was prepared by the Institute of Environmental Science & Research (ESR) prepared the report – 'Acrylamide in New Zealand Food and Updated Exposure Assessment' – for the Food Safety Authority (now known as the Ministry for Primary Industries).

ESR ran tests on five samples of most foods to measure variation across the product range, by purchasing different batches of pre-packaged foods or by purchasing on different days those foods not sold pre-packaged.

Other foods see same or increased levels

The ESR assessment measured acrylamide in foods such as hot chips, oven fries, bread, biscuits, breakfast cereals, muffins, fried rice, noodles, cereal-based snack foods, peanut butter and nuts.

According to the report, mean acrylamide concentrations in potato hot chips and wheat biscuit cereals were very similar to concentrations determined in a 2006 survey, while concentrations in corn crisps were more than double the concentration determined in 2006 from 270μg/kg to 596μg/kg. 

Acrylamide concentrations showed greater consistency, but not necessarily lower levels, in hot chips purchased from the main national fast food chain outlets.

Potato Crisps see low acrylamide levels

On the other hand, the mean acrylamide concentrations for potato crisps decreased significantly since the 2006 survey – from 581μg/kg to 1,570μg/kg.

This may have been due to the addition of ingredients that inhibit acrylamide production, minimisation of sugar addition and piece size.

Katherine Rich, chief executive of the New Zealand Food and Grocery Council (NZFGC) told FoodNavigator-Asia that steps taken by potato chip manufacturers have resulted in the concentration of acrylamide decreasing by 63% since 2006.

“Some manufacturers have been focusing on reducing levels and clearly that work has paid off. A mix of actions is available to them, including using low-sugar potatoes, re-working recipes, and changing processing methods and pre-treatments, such as soaking potatoes,”​ she said.

Also, wheatmeal bread was more variable than white bread when it came to acrylamide concentrations, while toasted bread showed lower acrylamide concentrations.

Mean estimates of dietary acrylamide exposure at 0.72-1.04µg/kg bw/day for adults were very similar to estimates made in 2006 at 0.74-0.99 µg/kg bw/day for adults.

Rich remarked that the New Zealand food industry has taken the issue seriously, and the assessment’s findings reflect that. “Manufacturers continue to explore ways of reducing acrylamide in a number of foods, and the NZFGC supports that work,”​ she said, adding that the assessment was carried out at the council’s request.

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