Acrylamide is a chemical that naturally forms in starchy foods during cooking at high temperatures, including frying, baking, and roasting. This chemical process ‘browns’ food and affects its taste. Acrylamide forms from sugars and amino acids (generally asparagine) that are naturally present in many foods and is found in products such as potato crisps, French fries, crackers, crispbread, bread, biscuits and coffee.
Acrylamide is not found in food that has been boiled or in foods that have not been heated.
Acrylamide also has many non-food industrial uses and is also present in tobacco smoke.
Since acrylamide is present in a wide range of everyday foods, the health concern of acrylamide applies to all individuals but children are the most exposed age group on a body weight basis. Following ingestion, acrylamide is absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract and distributed to all organs. Glycidamide is one of the main metabolites resulting from this process.
In 2015 the European Food Safety Agency published its scientific review on acrylamide in food. This review reconfirmed previous evaluations that acrylamide in food potentially increases the risk of cancer for individuals in all age groups. In addition to cancer, the researchers also considered possible harmful effects of acrylamide on the nervous system, pre- and post-natal development and male reproduction but these were not considered to be a concern, based on current levels of dietary exposure.