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21/02/18: New food safety rules on ‘cooking contaminant’ acrylamide

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Chips – golden is best because burning to brown is bad

FARMERS and food processors will be in the firing line of new food safety rules aimed at controlling levels of the potentially carcinogenic ‘cooking chemical’ acrylamide in food.

Acrylamide accumulates in a wide range of staple processed foods when they are cooked above 120 celsius, notably through baking, frying or roasting – so attention is being focussed on educating the public and processors to avoid cooking things too dark.

However, at the other end of the chain, there is also attention on producing crops that contain less of the sugars and amino acids that are the precursors of acrylamide. Highlighting the new rules – which are set to kick in this April – Nigel Halford of Rothamsted Research UK suggested that both the industry and consumers were still largely unaware of the issue.

“We are going to have compulsory codes of practice and that potentially affects everybody in the food supply chain from food processors right back to farmers, so includes stuff on agronomy and includes stuff on the actual food production,” said Mr. Halford.

Acrylamide is not a natural ingredient of food but is classed as a “processing contaminant” that is produced from heating asparagine and the sugars, glucose, fructose, and maltose.

Mr. Halford praised the campaign of the Food Standards Agency ‘Go for Gold’ which aims to encourage consumers to become more engaged on the issue and includes sensible advice like cooking to a light brown colour.

“Colour is a very good guide because it’s formed by similar chemical pathways to acrylamide, so it’s a very good indicator of how much acrylamide is forming,” he said. “So, roast your potatoes to a light brown rather than a dark brown colour, and anything too crispy and dark is not very good.”

Speaking specifically about wheat farmers, he added that it was really important that wheat had plenty of sulphur and not too much nitrogen, as both additives influence the levels of acrylamide’s natural precursors in the crop.

“The new code of practice includes ensuring sulphur sufficiency for wheat and using the ‘correct’ amount of nitrogen fertiliser,” he said. “I’m not too sure what they mean by ‘correct’, but farmers need to be aware that regulation is coming and after it’s here, how the code of practice is enforced, how it’s applied and how they need to respond to it.”

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