Significant quantities of the chemical acrylamide in widely consumed food items were first reported by Swedish scientists in 2002. Without these findings, we would be still washing down our extra crunchy hot chips with coffee in blissful ignorance. Since these initial findings, ongoing research and development has continued to increase consumer awareness of acrylamide - a naturally occurring compound that few can properly spell, let alone pronounce. Within business and industry, the need to detect the presence of acrylamide in other samples, including water and air is an increasing concern from an environmental and health perspective.
What is acrylamide?
A white odourless crystalline solid, acrylamide is highly soluble in water. This makes it useful in industrial processes and the manufacture of a range of products including polyacrylamide (polymerised acrylamide) used in water purification, sewage treatment, ore processing as well as fabrics, paper production and some personal products.
The extensive production and use of acrylamide presents a significant risk to health and the environment when it enters drinking or environmental waters.
Acrylamide in food
Acrylamide can occur in home-cooked, packaged and processed foods, depending on their nature and the cooking methods applied. Starchy food cooked at high temperatures may produce acrylamide, including fried and roasted potatoes and chips. Acrylamide can also be found in bread (such as toast), biscuits and coffee. Any type of coffee product derived from roasted coffee beans may contain acrylamide, including instant coffee. Other coffee substitutes, such as cereal and even chicory root coffees, which have undergone roasting, can also contain acrylamide. This is because acrylamide forms during the process of frying or toasting these foods to darker levels. Decreasing cooking time to avoid heavy crisping or browning has been demonstrated to decrease the acrylamide content of some foods.
Reducing acrylamide in some foods, such as coffee roasting, is, however, difficult without changing its taste - tragic news for coffee lovers around the world who may claim that roasting is what produces the coffee's 'personality,' and that less roasted or unroasted coffee would otherwise taste pretty rank.
Considered by many as the most popular hot beverage in the world, millions of people cannot imagine starting their day without a warm cup of joe. It's not surprising that an international controversy brewed several years ago in ongoing litigation between regulators, courts, business, and consumer advocates in the US - this matter had been running through the court system in California for nearly a decade on whether a multinational coffee chain and other retailers were required to place warning labels on cups about coffee's carcinogenic risk. Acrylamide, as the chemical of concern, has been classified by California's Proposition 65 (formally titled The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986) as carcinogenic. The regulation requires that consumers receive warnings of the presence of chemicals known to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity. Coffee companies countered these risk claims by suggesting the chemical is only present at harmless levels, therefore exempting it from California’s labelling laws.
Is this a storm in a coffee cup or cause for concern? While the court has in its most recent decision given its blessing to coffee, acylamide has continued to gain traction with regulatory bodies and food manufacturers researching and developing ways to reduce the amounts of this chemical in food products. Some decreases have been observed and there has been development in areas including guidance on ways to limit acrylamide formation in a variety of foods and processes.
Acrylamide and environmental contamination
Environmental contamination may result from disposal on land or from leaching of the residual monomer (acrylamide) from polyacrylamide. Acrylamide remains in water after water treatment with polyacrylamides and through the use of grouting agents, because it is very water-soluble and is not readily absorbed by sediment / solids.
Polyacrylamide is non-toxic, but the monomer is a potent neurotoxin. It has also been classified as a probable carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).
Exposure can occur in a work environment where even the smallest amount of polyacrylamide used in industry can result in acrylamide contamination in the workplace. In these circumstances, human exposure to acrylamide can occur primarily in workers working with the product through skin contact and inhalation of dust and vapour. Otherwise, the general public may be exposed to contaminated drinking water from residual monomer in polyacrylamide flocculants used in water treatment. The current Australian Drinking Water Guideline for Acrylamide is 0.0002 mg/L (0.2 μg/L).
MPL Laboratories is NATA Accredited in the analysis of acrylamide in water by LC-MSMS. Our laboratory testing services can provide fast and quality results for our clients in the areas of waste and drinking water treatment. We can also assist in detecting the presence of acrylamide in the air, to assist our clients in assessing occupational environments.
Make informed decisions with an accredited laboratory
Experienced and dedicated to your laboratory testing needs
MPL Laboratories and our network of Envirolab Services laboratories and support offices across Australia offer contamination testing services, which will provide you with accurate reporting. For acrylamide testing in water, we combine state of the art, liquid chromatography with tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MSMS) with reliable methodology to achieve lower levels of detection than previous chromatography options (High Performance Liquid Chromatography - HPLC).
Using this method, MPL Laboratories has achieved a routine reporting level of 0.0001 mg/L (0.1 μg/L).
For more information on acrylamide testing in water or even air samples, contact us today! Our expert team can also assist with your enquiries about our other capabilities in environmental contamination testing.
With many years' experience in processing large quantities of environmental testing samples for both private and public sector clients, MPL Laboratories has streamlined the analytical process and performs testing promptly to provide fast TATs - a service our laboratory prides itself on.
Our wide scope of NATA Accreditation for an extensive range of sample matrices means that our accredited laboratory testing services follow nationally compliant and independently audited methods.
This is supported by the extensive experience and expertise of our individual team members that are here to listen and help you with your sample testing needs.
Learn more about our capabilities in occupational hygiene testing
Your employees are the most important part of your business. That's why it's important that your workplace environment is healthy and safe for all your staff.
Our specialisation in OHS and hygiene monitoring encompasses a wide scope of areas that Envirolab has the expertise and know-how in providing you with quality results:
Additional information and resources
The Swedish National Food Administration (NFA), a government food safety agency and researchers from Stockholm University first reported in 2002 that acrylamide is formed during the heating at high temperatures of starch-rich foods, such as potatoes, rice or cereals. The finding has led to an acknowledgment and a call by consumers, industry, scientists and regulators for additional research on acrylamide.
Guidance material and codes of practice to help businesses manage the risks of acrylamide in the workplace are available at Safe Work state and territory sites e.g. SafeWork NSW.
Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) provides further information, including its research on dietary acrylamide exposure and tips on how to reduce acrylamide in your diet.