European regulators classified a chemical naturally occurring in a wide range of foods as a public health concern.
The European Food Safety Authority last week published its scientific opinion on acrylamide, a chemical that surfaces when potatoes, bread and coffee are cooked at high temperatures. The Maillard Reaction — which leads to the "browning" of foods during cooking — forms acrylamide from the sugars and amino acids in high-starch foods.
The agency's Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain reconfirmed previous evaluations that "acrylamide in food potentially increases the risk of developing cancer for consumers in all age groups." The panel did not change its recommendation after issuing a draft opinion last summer.
Once ingested, acrylamide is metabolized, in part, into glycidamide, which the agency said was the most likely cause of gene mutations and tumors in animal studies. The recommendation said that although animal studies showed acrylamide to be "genotoxic and carcinogenic," human studies remain limited and inconclusive.
The panel also found that acrylamide's effects on the nervous system, male reproduction and pre- and post-natal development were not a concern based on current exposure levels.
The EFSA does not play a direct role in enacting additional regulation, but the agency said the findings could guide policymakers regarding dietary advice to consumers or guidelines for commercial food producers.