Reducing the risks of acrylamide in cooking oil

In October 1997, cows and fish on the Swedish Bjare peninsula suddenly started dying. The cause was eventually discovered – construction workers had been pumping sealant into holes in a nearby railway tunnel which contaminated the water with acrylamide. Not only did this kill those cows and fish, it is a proven carcinogen for animals – and a probable carcinogen for humans. The problem with acrylamide is that it is found in many of the foods that we eat, especially starchy food with higher levels of asparagine such as crisps, chips, toast, cakes, and biscuits. One other place where people might not think acrylamide resides is in cooking oil. 

Acrylamide in Food

Acrylamide has long been seen as a risk factor in some foods. It develops as a natural by-product in food through the Maillard reaction, a form of non-enzymatic browning where a chemical reaction occurs between amino acids and reducing sugars. 

Food safety experts have been studying acrylamide since the early 2000s, and in 2013, the European Commission introduced ‘indicative values’ for food groups most associated with acrylamide. These were a guide rather than regulatory limits, but as of April 2018 food businesses in Europe will be required to put in place practical steps to manage acrylamide in their food management systems. 

Acrylamide cannot be fully eliminated, but it can be reduced and this is what new EU regulation is aiming for. 

What are the Risks? 

Potential health risks of acrylamide include cancer, nerve and reproductive system damage, although the risk levels differ depending on lifestyle and consumption levels. 

The Committee on Mutagenicity have suggested that acrylamide could damage DNA, stating that ‘there is no level of exposure to this genotoxic carcinogen that is without some risk’. In 2014, the European Food Safety Authority supported the CoM’s views, and the Food Standards Agency has been keeping an eye on acrylamide levels in food since 2007, recommending that when cooking foods like bread and potatoes, they are cooked to the lightest colour acceptable. 

Cooking Oil and Acrylamide 

Acrylamide is not naturally found in cooking oil, but if starchy food like potatoes are fried in oil, and that oil is reused, then acrylamide can build up to dangerous levels. This is not a huge concern for domestic cookery (unless chip fryers are used and oil is not replaced) but it might worry a lot of people who work in the food industry and use cooking oil on a daily basis, because if cooking oil is used beyond its working life then acrylamide can build up and harm consumers.

It is recommended that cooking oil should be replaced when it reaches 25% Total Polar Compound. There isn’t a direct correlation between acrylamide and TPC levels but it’s widely acknowledged that oils with a high TPC level also contain higher levels of acrylamide. 

A problem that many people have in the food industry, is knowing when their oil has reached an unacceptable TPC level. Lots of businesses may err on the safe side and throw away perfectly good oil before it has been used too much. On the other hand, some businesses might keep reusing their oil, unaware that it has become dangerous for consumers. 

One of the best ways to ensure that your cooking oil is safe to use, is to invest in a food oil monitor. At Klipspringer, we recommend the FOM330 Ebro oil monitor to check your oil at regular intervals. It is an extremely simple to use, handheld and portable instrument that quickly measures TPC levels in oil to a high standard of accuracy. This monitor not only makes companies more efficient, by preventing oil wastage, it also makes them safer and prevents acrylamide build up. 

Advice for the Food Industry 

There are a few simple pieces of advice that any business in the food industry that cooks with oil, or cooks food containing acrylamide, should follow:

  • Abide by the new standards
  • Cook food at lower temperatures for less time
  • Cook food to a maximum light golden brown colour 
  • Check the levels of TPC in your oil and discard at 25%

Posted on 26/04/2018