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A natural food coating prevents the formation of acrylamide in food

A Spanish team from the Institute of Food Science and Technology and Nutrition (CSIC) has patented a natural food coating that reduces the formation of acrylamide up to 80% in food and the formation of hydroxymethylfurfural up to 98%. Acrylamide and hydroxymethylfurfural are potentially carcinogenic compounds that naturally occur in certain foods during cooking, frying, baking or roasting, at temperatures of 120oC or higher. This is the first product that avoids these two compounds occurring, and may provide a solution to a problem that has concerned food safety agencies in the last few years.

Bread with the food coating added, which is totally invisible, has a reduction of potentially carcinogenic compounds up to 98%.

A Spanish team from the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) has patented a food coating  that reduces the formation of acrylamide in foods and hydroxymethylfurfural (also known by the acronym HMF), two potentially carcinogenic compounds that occur in some foods during frying or baking.

The product is formed of a mixture of water and natural products (including fibre, antioxidants, lactic acid, aqueous extract of cinnamon tea...) and enables  important reductions: up to 80% less acrylamide and up to 98% less hydroxymethylfurfural. It can be applied before cooking on the surface of foods, where acrylamide and hydroxymethylfurfural preferably originate. 

The results are the fruit of collaboration between the groups led by Pilar Montero and Francisco J. Morales, research professors at the CSIC’S Institute of Food Science and Technology and Nutrition in  Madrid.

As Pilar Montero explains, ‘once added, the coating is totally invisible and does not alter the organoleptic properties of food’. It can be easily applied to the surface of foods by spray, brush or similar, which opens the possibility of commercializing it not only for food production companies but also as an ingredient to the final consumer, who may apply it before cooking food at home.

An alarm from 2002

The acrylamide alarm was raised in 2002 when researchers at the University of Stockholm found high concentrations of this substance in certain foods when baked or fried.  Acrylamide was not new for the chemical industry as it was commercialized for varied applications in the construction, water treatment and cosmetics sectors.

Acrylamide was also known for its neurotoxic, carcinogenic and genotoxic effects, and had been classified by the International Agency for Cancer as a possible human carcinogen and by the European Chemicals Agency as a very high-risk substance. But the discovery, in 2002, of their presence in food was something totally new and unexpected.

Similarly, in the mid-1990’s, new studies show that hydroxymethylfurfural could be bioactive and toxic in the human organism when transforming into a sulful-ester derivative, a compound highly reactive toward DNA and other biological molecules.

Both acrylamide and hydroxymethylfurfural are generated from the reaction of sugars and amino acids or proteins during cooking. In the formation of acrylamide the amino acid asparagine is the only one involved. In the case of hydroxymethylfurfural, it can also be generated from the caramelisation of sugars, a process known as the ‘Maillard reaction’ which is responsible for the brown colour and flavour of fried, baked or roasted food. Therefore, both are substances widely distributed in the products that form the Western diet, with the exception of boiled food.

The European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) is systematically monitoring the levels of acrylamide in a range of foods in European countries. According to their results, the products with higher concentrations of acrylamide are crisps, pastries, toast and crackers, breakfast cereals, coffee and its derivatives. There has not been established a  until now. 

CSIC researcher Francisco Morales explains that the estimated intake of acrylamide varies according to dietary and population groups, although average levels are between 0.4 and 1.0 microgram of acrylamide per kilogram of body weight per day. In the case of hydroxymethylfurfural, Morales says, "due to its highest concentration in foods, mean intakes are higher: between 70 and 140 per kilogram of body weight per day." Nevertheless, "the industry associations are making a big effort to keep a safe margin concentrations."

Links: 

Institut de Ciència i Tecnologia d'Aliments i Nutrició (ICTAN)

WHO- FAQ about acrylamide

EFSA: Results on acrylamide levels in food from monitoring years 2007-2009 and Exposure assessment (abril de 2011)