Acrylamide in Food

Martin Perkins

12th July 2016

Acrylamide, EFSA, European Commission, European Food Standards Agency, FDA, Food and Drugs Administration, Food Standards Agency, Maillard Reaction, Professor Don Mottram, University of Reading,

What is Acrylamide and why is it a Problem?

Acrylamide is a chemical that is produced naturally during cooking at high temperatures (e.g., roasting, frying, baking). It has always been in the food we eat, but it was first found in our food in 2002 by Swedish researchers. Professor Don Mottram at the University of Reading then demonstrated that it was formed in cooking by the Maillard reaction between reducing sugars and asparagine (a naturally occurring amino acid).

Acrylamide is known to cause cancer in animals and laboratory studies indicate that it may have the potential to cause cancer in humans too.

Because of the potential risk, the Food Standards Agency recommends that exposure should be as low as reasonably practicable and is funding research projects and surveys to better understand how acrylamide is formed, and how to reduce the amount formed in cooking.

The European Food Standards Agency (EFSA) and European Commission are currently looking at introducing regulatory limits for acrylamide in different types of foods and in the USA, the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) has recently issued final guidance to food manufacturers on how to reduce acrylamide reduction in foods.

What is the Food Industry Doing?

The food industry is currently working on ways to reduce acrylamide levels in food by changing agronomic practices to reduce asparagine or sugar levels in crops (potato, barley, wheat) or adopting food processing technologies to reduce acrylamide formation.

Many food manufacturers routinely determine acrylamide levels in their products using laboratory methods based on Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS) and Liquid Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry (LC-MS) to ensure their processes minimize acrylamide formation.

How is acrylamide measured and what is wrong with the existing approaches?

Acrylamide can be measured by either GC-MS or LC-MS. With GC-MS, the acrylamide is chemically altered, with bromination reagents, prior to analysis to form a volatile derivative that can be measured in the gas phase. With LC-MS, the acrylamide is typically analysed directly without derivatization.

Unfortunately bromination requires the use of hazardous and toxic reagents and the sample preparation is manually intensive. Furthermore, the derivatives are either chemically unstable or are subject to potential interferences from phthalates (common environmental contaminants present in many plastics).

LC-MS does not use derivatization but the low mass of acrylamide means that there are many potential interferences in its analysis and LC-MS/MS is required, and the transitions used for quantification and qualification are from the parent ion (which is analytically, far from ideal). The cost of the instrumentation for LC-MS/MS analysis is also higher than that of the GC-MS/MS method.

Is there a better way?

GERSTEL in the US have fully automated an LC-MS/MS method for the determination of acrylamide in coffee and for labs currently determining acrylamide by LC-MS/MS, this may offer a fully automated solution that may both improve data quality and allows you to better utilize your analysts time and skills.

Recently however, we’ve been asked by several customers using the bromination-GC-MS method, if there is a better way to do acrylamide analysis. We’ve found an alternative GC-MS method that has been used in Japan for over a decade, and has been demonstrated to be a robust method for the determination of acrylamide in a wide range of foodstuffs.

We think there is potential to fully automate this method to deliver a safer, more robust way of determining acrylamide in foods.

We believe that automating this method could be very useful. Do you agree?

If so, is this a project that you are interested in collaborating with us on?

If you would like to discuss this in more detail, please call us on +44 (0)1223 279210 or email: