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The New EU Regulations on Reducing Acrylamide

From 11th April 2018, all products containing acrylamide will be subject to the new EU regulations.

From 11th April 2018, all food business operators whose products contain acrylamide will need to consider new rules, which establish acrylamide benchmark levels and mitigation measures to the purpose of reducing the presence of acrylamide in food.

The range of products concerned includes potato-based products, bread and bakery items, cereals, coffee and coffee substitutes, and baby food[1]. The new rules[2] might impact the current production process for certain products, requiring changes in manufacturing. The measures needed by the food business operators concerned will depend on the product category, their role in the supply chain and their business size.

Default regime

By default, any food business operator producing foodstuffs falling under the material scope of the regulation must (i) apply product-specific mitigation measures defined in Annex I to the regulation and (ii) establish a sampling and analysis programme, to monitor acrylamide levels in the foodstuffs they produce or place on the market.

For example, the mitigation measures for cereals include the identification—by means of risk assessment—of the critical heat-treatment steps in the manufacturing process generating acrylamide, and of an effective combination of temperature and heating times to minimise acrylamide formation without compromising the taste, texture, colour, safety and shelf-life of the product. Notably for coffee products, food business operators will have to consider that products based on Robusta beans tend to have higher acrylamide levels than products based on Arabica beans. The sampling and analysis requirements—the performance criteria of the method analysis that must be used—are further defined in the regulation. Food business operators must keep a record of the mitigation measures they put in place, as well as the results of the sampling and analysis they perform.

Derogatory regime for retail or direct supply operators

The obligations are quite burdensome and may prove infeasible for certain types and sizes of food businesses. Therefore, derogatory measures have been put in place for operators producing foodstuffs that fall within the scope of the regulation, but are retailers or direct suppliers of local retail establishments only, as these businesses are generally operating on a smaller scale. These food business operators must apply another set of mitigation measures, tailored to consider the specificities of such type of smaller businesses. These operators are exempt from the obligation to perform sampling and analysis; however, they must be able to provide evidence of the application of the applicable mitigation measures. This derogatory regime does however not apply where the operators performing these retail activities conduct their business in facilities under direct control and are operating under one trademark or commercial license, as a part of a larger, interconnected operation and under the instructions of a food business operator that centrally supplies the foodstuffs. More extensive mitigation measures are deemed practicable for such larger-scale businesses, of which these businesses are required to keep record. They are also required to perform sampling and analysis to determine the level of acrylamide in their foodstuffs, and to keep record of the results thereof.

The very purpose of the regulation is to achieve levels of acrylamide as low as reasonably achievable below benchmark levels set out in Annex IV to the Regulation[3]. These benchmark levels are due to be reviewed by the Commission every three years, with the aim to gradually set lower levels.

Food business operators subject to sampling and analysis obligations under the new regulation will have to verify the results of the analysis do not show acrylamide levels above the benchmark levels defined in the regulation. If these levels are exceeded, the concerned food business operators have the duty to review—without delay—the mitigation measures and adjust processes and controls to achieve levels of acrylamide as low as reasonably achievable below the benchmark levels. However, the regulation acknowledges the specified food categories can be broad and for specific foods within such a broad food category, there may be specific production, geographic or seasonal conditions or product characteristics for which it is not possible to achieve the benchmark levels despite the application of all mitigation measures. Some flexibility is provided for in such cases, being understood that food business operators relying on this flexibility will need to show the evidence that they applied relevant mitigation measures anyway.

It is advisable for all concerned operators to start taking appropriate action to ensure they comply with the regulation by the date the new rules will be applicable—11th April 2018. 

[1] Article 1(2) defines the material scope of the Regulation, and lists French fries, other cut (deep fried) products and sliced potato crisps from fresh potatoes, potato crisps, snacks, crackers and other potato products from potato dough, bread, breakfast cereals (excluding porridge), fine bakery wares (cookies, biscuits, rusks, cereal bars, scones, cornets, wafers, crumpets and gingerbread, as well as crackers, crisp breads and bread substitutes), coffee, roast coffee, instant (soluble) coffee; coffee substitutes, baby food and, processed cereal-based food intended for infants and young children.

[2] Commission Regulation (EU) 2017/2158 of 20 November 2017 establishing mitigation measures and benchmark levels for the reduction of the presence of acrylamide in food.

[3] The benchmark levels range from 40 µg/kg in baby foods to 4000 µg/kg in chicory used as coffee substitute. Most breakfast cereals have a benchmark level set at 300 µg/kg, except for maize, oat, spelt, barley and rice based products, for which the benchmark level is 50% lower.

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