French Fries Under Fire, Coffee in the Crosshairs

FDA issues draft guidance on acrylamide

French Fries

WASHINGTON --French fries, potato chips and coffee, staples of foodservice, snacking and on-the-go convenience retailing, are among foods found to contain high levels of acrylamide, drawing new scrutiny from researchers, who say that the chemical has been found to cause cancer in animals. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a "draft guidance for industry" for comment purposes (not for implementation) on acrylamide.

FDA chemist Lauren Robin said that acrylamide is a chemical that can form in some foods--mainly plant-based foods--during high-temperature cooking processes like frying and baking. These include potatoes, cereals, coffee, crackers or breads, dried fruits and many other foods. According to the Grocery Manufacturers Association, acrylamide is found in 40% of the calories consumed in the average American diet.

While acrylamide has probably been around as long as people have been baking, roasting, toasting or frying foods, it was only in 2002 that scientists first discovered the chemical in food. Since then, the FDA has been actively investigating the effects of acrylamide as well as potential measures to reduce it.

"Reducing acrylamide in foods may mitigate potential human health risks from exposure to acrylamide," the FDA said in the guidance. "This guidance is intended to suggest a range of possible approaches to acrylamide reduction and not to identify specific recommended approaches. This guidance also does not identify any specific maximum recommended level or action level for acrylamide. … Factors affecting acrylamide formation are present at various stages from farm to table, so this guidance is for growers, manufacturers and foodservice operators."

The guidance covers "raw materials, processing practices and ingredients affecting potato-based foods, cereal-based foods, and coffee, respectively. … provides suggested preparation and cooking instructions on packaged frozen french fries [and] … informs foodservice operations of techniques for preparing potato-based and cereal-based foods."

French Fries & Potato Chips

According to the guidance, "French fry and potato chip producers have traditionally selected potatoes that are low in reducing sugars to minimize browning. Chipping potatoes typically have the lowest sugar levels, followed by potatoes for french fry processing and fresh market potatoes. Selecting potato varieties that are as low as possible in reducing sugars may help reduce acrylamide, while still retaining desirable product qualities. The Snack Foods Association (SFA) recommends against using Russet varieties for chipping because of high reducing sugar levels."


And it said, "Coffee is a significant source of acrylamide exposure for adults. Limited information is available on factors known to affect acrylamide concentrations in coffee.

Robusta beans have somewhat higher acrylamide levels than arabica beans. Dark roast coffee has less acrylamide than light roast coffee (since acrylamide formed early in roasting is destroyed later in the roasting process). Acrylamide levels in roasted coffee decline during long-term storage. Also, different preparation methods (e.g., espresso versus filter brewed) result in different levels of acrylamide in coffee as consumed.

"A number of mitigation methods have been suggested for coffee, such as steam roasting and asparaginase treatment, but FDA is not aware of any proven mitigation measures. In more recent laboratory and pilot trials, treatment of green coffee beans with asparaginase resulted in lower acrylamide levels (10% to 45%) after roasting compared with untreated roasted beans, but coffee taste was significantly and negatively affected. A viable commercial process is not yet available."

Click here for more details from the FDA.