Germany: more than half of the products tested contain too much acrylamide

The German Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL), together with the Federal State Working Group for Consumer Protection (LAV), has recently published its annual report about monitoring activities conducted in 2021 on some food (and non-food) products on the national market. A total of 425 samples from 15 participating official laboratories were examined as part of the monitoring project. Acrylamide was detectable in most of the samples (317 samples, 75%).    

Among the products sampled in 2021 there were vegetable crisps and blackened olives, where worrying concentrations of acrylamide have been found.    

According to the Federal Office, more than half of the 77 vegetable crisps examined (51.9%) exceeded the guideline value of 750 µg/kg for potato chips, in some cases significantly. A possible reason, says the BVL, may be that relatively "sweet" types of vegetables such as parsnips, sweet potatoes, or carrots are usually used to make veggie chips. These have a high proportion of reducing sugars, which promote the formation of acrylamide. With a median value of 804 μg/kg, these are significantly higher than the average acrylamide levels in potato chips. What was surprising here was the big difference between conventionally and organically produced vegetable chips, as the median of the latter was about four times higher than that of conventional vegetable crisps. A possible reason for this could be that the conventionally produced vegetable crisps may also include extruded products, such as lentil crisps or chickpea crisps, in the manufacturing process of which the acrylamide-minimizing enzyme asparaginase can be used.    

While acrylamide is more commonly suspected in baked or roasted starchy products, processed olives can also have significant levels. In blackened olives (those olives whose color is obtained from a deliberate oxidation process during processing which makes the fruit less bitter), the oxidation process and the subsequent thermal conservation treatment favor the formation of acrylamide, that’s way, explains the BVL, in the current monitoring studies, the median, i.e. the determined average value, of the blackened olive samples tested for acrylamide was 290 µg/kg, well above the median of untreated green and black olives (11 µg/kg and 23 µg/kg, respectively).    

“The ALARA principle (As Low As Reasonably Achievable) applies to acrylamide”, explains Dr. Georg Schreiber, Head of the Food Safety Department at the BVL. "In the case of vegetable chips and blackened olives, the acrylamide content can be significantly reduced through targeted minimization measures". To protect consumers, the BVL recommends further measures to minimize the acrylamide content in these product groups. In addition, other product groups should be examined which, like olives, are not at first sight considered to be predestined for the formation of acrylamide during production.    

As the European Commission states in its recommendation (EU) 2019/1888, there is currently insufficient data on the acrylamide content in certain foods. In addition, there is insufficient data on foods that fall outside the scope of Regulation (EU) 2017/2158 but contain significant amounts of acrylamide and/or could contribute significantly to dietary exposure to acrylamide.  The results obtained with this monitoring program can help to improve the data situation and to define further measures based on this. As part of a review of Regulation (EU) No. 2017/2158, an update and extension of the EU guideline values and the possible introduction of maximum levels are currently being discussed.