Acrylamide is a carcinogenic industrial chemical compound that has been categorized by the World Health Organization (WHO) as "probably carcinogenic to humans" as a Group 2A carcinogenic substance. In April 2002, Swedish scientists surprised the world by announcing the discovery of significant quantities of the chemical acrylamide in a variety of baked, fried or toasted foods. The list now includes bread, potato chips, French fries, crackers, breakfast cereals, baby food, toasted bread, breaded meat products and coffee. Acrylamide is a known animal carcinogen and human neurotoxicant, and its discovery in many foods prompted immediate reaction from governments worldwide, as well as intense media coverage.
Acrylamide appears to form as a byproduct of the high-temperature cooking processes found in frying, baking and roasting, whether conducted by food manufacturers or in home cooking. Research to date suggests that acrylamide formation is particularly likely in carbohydrate-rich foods such as potatoes and cereals. Scientists have determined that acrylamide forms in food cooked at high temperatures as a result of a chemical reaction between the amino acid asparagine and reducing sugars such as glucose and fructose.
Acrylamide has probably always been present in cooked foods, and is found mainly in plant-based foods that are rich in carbohydrates and low in protein, notably potato products and cereal foods. The highest concentrations of acrylamide have been detected in potato chips and French fries. Additional research is being undertaken in order to more fully understand the risks of acrylamide to human health.
In the meantime, regulatory authorities continue to tighten regulations. For example, acrylamide has been listed on the State of California's Proposition 65 list of carcinogenic or mutagenic substances since 1990 as a cancer risk. In early 2011, the Californian authorities revised the list to also label acrylamide as a known reproductive toxicant. Any products sold in California that contain a Proposition 65 listed compound must carry a label warning the purchaser that the substance is present in the product. Acrylamide has also been recently added to the candidate list for inclusion on the European Union's Substances of Very High Concern (SVHC) following a unanimous decision by an expert EU health panel.
In recent years, national health regulatory bodies and the food industry have been cooperating on approaches to reduce acrylamide levels in processed foods. These approaches include changing the pH to alter the reaction products; cutting heating temperatures and times; using an enzyme to convert asparagine to an impotent form; binding asparagine to make it inaccessible; adding amino acids; removing compounds from the recipe that may promote acrylamide formation; and potentially utilizing Functional Technologies' acrylamide-preventing yeasts to consume most of the asapagine before it can be heated and converted to acrylamide.
Testing of Functional Technologies' acrylamide-preventing yeasts in baking bread have shown acrylamide reductions of 90 percent with no discernible differences in quality and taste in the baked bread and, importantly, no changes in the baking process. The company's AP-preventing yeasts have already been well received in the baking and other food industries, with a collaboration partnership signed in early 2011 with an undisclosed leading multi-national corporation and ongoing partnership and testing discussions with companies in a variety of food-related sectors.