Thursday, January 28, 2010


The Acrylamide "scare" that originated in April 2002 in Sweden by the accidental discovery of the presence of this artifact in some starchy foods processed at high temperatures has assumed hysterical dimension with thousands of reports highlighting its dangerous implication in many human disorders. There are more than 1.5 lakh reports from many countries since 2002 dealing with one or the other aspect of Acrylamide in foods. The WHO and the FAO, as well as health authorities in Europe, the US, Canada etc have come out with safety limits for consumption by human beings. Considering that incidences of cancers in nervous system, oral cavity, peritoneum, thyroid gland, mammary glands and uterus were reported in more than 10% of experimental rats when administered very high doses of Acrylamide, safety experts are invariably cautious in making any recommendation for a safe level of consumption. Currently a daily intake of 1 micro gram per kg body weight is considered safe. Most of the processed foods contain comparatively lower levels of Acrylamide with serving size providing much less than the limit suggested.

Chemically Acrylamide is 2-Propanamide, formed during chemical reaction between fructose, glucose and some reducing sugars with amino acids the most reactive being Asparagine at temperatures beyond 120C. Foods cooked at high temperatures as encountered during roasting, frying, baking etc tend to contain significant levels of Acrylamide, its concentration directly related to the temperature and time of exposure. The fact that it is not stable in acidic or alkaline conditions does allow the GI tract to reduce the impact of its consumption, seems to have been over looked by those crying hoarse about the dangers from Acrylamide. Also under ambient conditions Acrylamide decomposes to Ammonia. According to available data base most affected commercial food products are Potato Chips and French Fries, universally liked by young age consumers including school going children.

Now that a "problem" has been "identified" it is logical that palliative measures are developed to over come the "risks" associated with Acrylamide. The historical fact that potato chips were being consumed for at least during the last 100 years and no "cause and effect" relationship has been established while consuming this product, cannot be brushed away easily and therefore how far this problem is serious must be assessed thoroughly before pronouncing a scientific judgment. The Biotech industry, lately becoming a focus of consumer apprehension because of its role in developing the controversial GM goods, has now jumped into Acrylamide bogey by coming out with bioactive preparations like "Acrylaway", "Preventase" etc based on microbial Asparaginase enzyme derived from molds like A. oryzae, A. niger etc. This enzyme transforms the amino acid Asparagine into a non-reactive entity disabling the Maillard reaction potential very significantly. Use of these enzyme preparations requires the industry to modify the potato chips making process to include a partial frying and steeping steps before the final frying which according to the manufacturers would reduce Acrylamide concentration to the extent of 60-85%. Mandatory approvals have been given for use of Asparaginase enzyme preparations under GRAS category in many countries like the US, some European countries, New Zealand, Australia and China.

It is an irony that "consumer scare" becomes the driving force for spawning a new industry that is supposed to overcome the danger perception amongst the consumers and the policy makers. There are simple ways of handling this perceived problem and consumers can always avoid Acrylamide development in products like potato chips by observing certain precautions like use of potatoes stored at temperatures above 8C, maintaining frying temperatures between 145 and 170C, avoiding prolonged cooking, preferring "golden" tint to dark brown color in the final product and consuming lesser quantities of dark colored fried products as much as possible. Snack industry must increasingly switch over to vacuum frying from the current open frying systems to prevent high temperatures in the frier and consequent generation of Acrylamide in high concentrations in the fried products.


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