Fifteen percent of Brussels’ friteries surveyed selling potato fries with high levels of known carcinogen

23 Feb 2017 Acrylamide in food

A snapshot survey of potato fries sold in twenty Brussels friteries has discovered three
samples with levels of acrylamide, a known carcinogen, above the EU benchmark.

A joint investigation conducted by Changing Markets and local news brand BRUZZ into the levels
of acrylamide found that 15 percent of the Brussels establishments surveyed were selling potato
fries with high levels of acrylamide, exceeding the European benchmark of 600 µg/kg.

Acrylamide is a known carcinogen and a proposal to regulate its content in food is currently being
discussed in Brussels by the European Commission and Member States. This genotoxic
chemical is found in many food products consumed by Europeans such as bread, coffee,
biscuits, cereals, fried potato products and several types of baby foods.

The highest acrylamide level found in the survey was 670 µg/kg, over six times higher than the
lowest at 100 µg/kg, followed by two samples at 660 and 620 µg/kg. Two samples were at 500
µg/kg – a new benchmark level being proposed by the European Commission. A sample taken at
fast food giant McDonalds was above the average levels found in smaller friteries, at 450 µg/kg.
Full results can be found in the table in the Annex.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) considers acrylamide in food a concern for public
health and has identified potato fried products as the largest contributor to acrylamide exposure,
which is of particular concern for young children [1]. European health authorities agree that
acrylamide levels in food should be reduced as much as possible and industry can play an
important role in these efforts.

Under the current protocol [2], Member States have been obliged to monitor levels of acrylamide
in food products since 2007 and act when products are found at levels higher than the European
benchmark. For potato fries, this has been set at 600 µg/kg, which is at the high end of
concentrations observed over the years.

Nevertheless, data released by EFSA last year showed the current approach has failed to lower
acrylamide concentrations across food products [3]. A recent study from the University of Liège
suggests that acrylamide levels in potato fries served in catering facilities in Belgium are in fact
increasing [4].

“The results released today show that any approach to tackle acrylamide that relies on the food
industry’s self-regulation is destined to fail” said Nuša Urbančič from Changing Markets. “It’s time
for the Commission to put in place a robust legal framework that sets ambitious legally binding
limits for acrylamide in food to ensure that business operators make real efforts to reduce its

A draft legislative proposal on acrylamide [5] is currently being discussed by the European
Commission and Member States. This proposal fails to introduce maximum legal limits for
acrylamide in food products and keeps the benchmarks at very high levels compared to what is
technically possible. Instead, it mandates the application of codes of practice, developed by the
industry – the approach that has been in place until now and has failed.

“It’s unclear whether the friteries that exceeded the acrylamide benchmark in our survey are
unaware of this issue or are failing to implement good practices” continued Urbančič. “In any
case, low acrylamide levels in most of the “frites” tested show that consumers should be able to
confidently enjoy their products, if companies take this issue seriously. We would especially
encourage regulators to apply stricter controls on bigger companies that can adopt more
measures to reduce the presence of this carcinogenic chemical.”

Several simple measures that friteries can implement to ensure lower acrylamide levels have
been identified by the European Potato Processors’ Association [6]. These include advice
regarding which potato varieties should be favoured, how potatoes should be stored, how they
should be cut and soaked before frying, how frequently the oil should be changed, and
recommendations on length and temperature they should be fried for. The Commission’s
proposal applies the same rules to all food business operators in the hospitality and eating-out
sectors equally, including taking an annual sample and reporting on the colour of the product,
regardless of their size and turnover. This means that big corporations like McDonalds have to
implement the same controls as small businesses.


[1] EFSA’s scientific opinion on acrylamide in food
[2] European Commission’s Recommendation 2013/647/EU
[3] SumOfUs’ report on acrylamide levels found in food in the EU
[4] Claes, W. et al (2016) Reassessment of the acrylamide risk: Belgium as a case-study.
University of Liège, Belgium. Journal of Food Control. Elsevier.
[5] European Commission’s draft legislative proposal
[6] The golden frying recipe

About the analysis:

The samples were prepared and analysed for acrylamide by SGS Belgium NV in Antwerp
(ISO17025 accredited laboratory). The analytical method was liquid chromatography−mass
Spectrometry (LC-MS). The samples were taken in different establishments across Brussels in
January 2017.

Further information:

Ignacio Vázquez
Changing Markets

Nuša Urbančič
Changing Markets

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