New EU rules on the reduction of acrylamide in food

13 March 2018

Nicolas Carbonnelle

Acrylamide is a substance that is formed during high-temperature and low moisture processing of foods that contain starch, such as breakfast cereals, baked goods and snacks. The range of products that is covered by the Acrylamide Regulation includes potato-based products, bread and bakery wares, cereals, coffee and coffee substitutes, as well as baby food. 

The new rules will apply from 11 April 2018 and might require changes to the current production process of certain products. 

1. Purpose of the regulation

The purpose of the Acrylamide Regulation is to achieve levels of acrylamide as low as reasonably achievable below the benchmark levels that the Acrylamide Regulation defines, and that are due to be reviewed by the Commission every three years –with the aim of gradually setting lower levels. The Acrylamide Regulation does not define maximum levels of acrylamide, however such maximum levels might be defined for certain foods in the future. The definition of such maximum levels is called for by certain stakeholders, in particular in respect of food products intended for babies, infants and young children. 

2. Measures to be implemented

The actual measures that the concerned food business operators will need to implement depend on the category of products, the role of the operators in the supply chain and their business size. 

  • By default, the concerned food business operator will have to apply product-specific mitigation measures (defined in Annex I to the regulation) and establish a sampling and analysis programme, to the effect of monitoring acrylamide levels in the foodstuffs they produce and/or place on the market. The food business operators will have to keep a record of the mitigation measures they put in place, as well as of the results of the sampling and analysis they perform. 
  • A derogatory regime is provided for operators operating on a smaller scale, namely retailers and/or direct suppliers of local retail establishments only. These food business operators have to apply a set of mitigation measures that has been tailored taking into account the specificities of smaller businesses, and of which the FBOs have to be able to provide evidence of the application. They are however exempt from the obligation to perform sampling and analysis. 

It is important to note that the derogatory regime will not apply where the operators performing the concerned retail activities conduct their business in facilities under direct control and are operating under one trademark or commercial license, as a part of, or franchise of, a larger, interconnected operation and under the instructions of a food business operator that centrally supplies the foodstuffs. 

3. Follow-up of sampling and analysis – Principle and exceptions

Where food business operators subject to sampling and analysis obligations under the new regulation establish that the benchmark levels defined in the regulation are exceeded, they will have the duty to review without delay the mitigation measures they apply, and to adjust processes and controls with the aim of achieving levels of acrylamide as low as reasonably achievable below the benchmark levels. 

However, the regulation acknowledges that the food categories specified by the regulation are in certain cases broad, and that for specific foods within such a broad food category there may be specific production, geographic or seasonal conditions or product characteristics for which it is not possible to achieve the benchmark levels, despite the application of all mitigation measures. Some flexibility is provided for in such cases, being understood that food business operators relying on this flexibility will need to show the evidence that they applied relevant mitigation measures anyway.

4. Next steps

For the time being, it is expected from the concerned operators that they amend their food safety management procedures as appropriate. 

The Acrylamide Regulation will apply from 11 April 2018, resulting in the concerned food business operators having to take into account the acrylamide benchmark levels defined by the regulation, and implementing mitigation measures for the purpose of reducing the presence of acrylamide in their food products.

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