In 2002, Health Canada alerted Canadians to the presence of acrylamide in some foods, following reports by scientists in Sweden. Since then, Health Canada scientists have participated in international research efforts aimed at understanding how acrylamide is formed in foods and the health implications.
Acrylamide is a chemical that forms in certain foods when a natural amino acid called asparagine reacts with certain naturally occurring sugars such as glucose during processing or cooking at high temperatures, and is known to cause cancer in animals.
In February, 2005, the Joint Food and Agriculture Organization and World Health Organization Expert Committee on Food Additives and Contaminants (JECFA) considered the available data on potential health risks associated with acrylamide levels in the food supply. The report, released on March 2, 2005, concludes that at current levels of intake, acrylamide in food may be a human health concern.
Health Canada scientists participated in the work of the JECFA committee and are in agreement with the committee's conclusions and recommendations. These include a call for strategies to reduce levels of acrylamide in foods and additional research on the long-term effects of acrylamide on humans. This approach is consistent with action Health Canada has been taking since acrylamide was discovered in foods in 2002 such as determining the levels of acrylamide in Canadian food, exploring how acrylamide is formed in food, studying its long term effects on humans, and developing strategies to reduce acrylamide levels in food.
As the data relating to the risk of acrylamide in foods is incomplete, it is impossible to determine recommended maximum exposure levels or to set daily consumption limits for specific foods containing acrylamide. However, research conducted by Health Canada and internationally indicates that french fries and potato chips typically contain the highest levels of acrylamide. Acrylamide has also been found in breakfast cereals, pastries and cookies, breads, rolls and toast, cocoa products, coffee and coffee substitutes.
Health Canada's advice, consistent with Canada's Food Guide to Healthy Eating, is to have fried or deep-fried foods and snacks such as french fries and potato chips less often while choosing a healthy diet, including a variety of foods from each food group. Occasional consumption of these products is not likely to be a health concern.
Health Canada has also prepared a tip sheet on ways Canadians can reduce acylamide when preparing food at home.
Reducing acrylamide in foods is a primary step in reducing Canadian's exposure to acrylamide. Thus, Health Canada continues to collaborate with the food industry to achieve this goal. For example, Health Canada and the food industry worked together to investigate possible routes of reduction of acrylamide in prepackaged french fries.
Given the need for further research on the acrylamide risk in foods, Health Canada scientists are continuing efforts, in collaboration with scientists in the United States, the European Community and elsewhere, to generate the scientific data needed to assess the potential risks associated acrylamide in foods.
While this work continues, a balanced diet remains the best way to reduce exposure to this potentially harmful chemical. As further information is generated, Health Canada will continue to keep Canadians informed.