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Skip to 0 minutes and 1 secondIn this presentation, we will look at two types of food contaminants in more depth - acrylamide and melamine.

Skip to 0 minutes and 11 secondsAcrylamide is a chemical formed by the reaction between reducing sugar and amino acid asparagine during cooking.

Skip to 0 minutes and 20 secondsAcrylamide was first detected in food in 2002 by the Swedish National Food Authority.

Skip to 0 minutes and 27 secondsIt has since been reported in other countries. And in the US, it is estimated that 38% of calories come from food contaminated acrylamide.

Skip to 0 minutes and 38 secondsAcrylamide is typically formed in starchy food at high temperature cooking, such as a frying, baking, and roasting.

Skip to 0 minutes and 48 secondsIt is present in fried and baked foods, such as a French fries, potato crisps, biscuits, and coffee.

Skip to 0 minutes and 58 secondsThe food that contribute the most to acrylamide intake are crispbread, coffee, bread, fried potatoes, cake.

Skip to 1 minute and 11 secondsWhy is it important? There are concerns that acrylamide poses health risks through being both carcinogenic and a neurotoxic.

Skip to 1 minute and 22 secondsIn the interest of food safety and development of food safety standards, the European Food Safety Authority, EFSA, is actively working on acrylamide assessment, requesting member states to monitor acrylamide levels to enable yearly reports. Because acrylamide is recognised as being a potentially important food contaminant, regulators are carrying out and assessing many studies to ensure a full understanding of the levels of exposure and their potential health effects. This will provide evidence that can be used to promote the case for improved regulations and the reductions of acrylamide levels in food. In terms of the toxicity and health risk of acrylamide, it has been founded that chronic exposure cause mammary gland tumours in rats and mice.

Skip to 2 minutes and 15 secondsAcrylamide is toxic to the nervous system of both animals and humans. It is considered to be probably carcinogenic to humans. Classified by the World Health Organisation, based on human and animal data. In humans, cancer evidence is not conclusive.

Skip to 2 minutes and 37 secondsWith dietary contaminants such as acrylamide, it can be difficult to get a clear picture of the effect of the contaminants on human health. A number of studies that have assessed the association between acrylamide exposure and disease have found no effect. Other studies have shown an association between exposure to acrylamide in the diet and human health effects. Melamine is not natural to food. Therefore it is considered a man-made toxin. It is intended for industrial use in melamine resins production, such as textiles, plastics, glues, coatings, laminates, dishwares and others. Melamine is an example of a contaminant that has been deliberately added to food to give a false picture of the quality of the food.

Skip to 3 minutes and 29 secondsFor example, melamine was added to milk powder to boost the nitrogen levels during protein tests for dairy products.

Skip to 3 minutes and 39 secondsThis made the milk powder appear to contain more protein than it does. This is food fraud, one that can have serious public health outcomes.

Skip to 3 minutes and 50 secondsIn 2008, thousands of infants and young children in China suffered acute kidney failure caused by renal lithiasis.

Skip to 3 minutes and 59 secondsConsumption of infant formula was associated with the cases. And melamine added to the infant formula was found to be the cause of this disaster. Melamine was also associated with massive pet food recall in the US in 2007, where animals who had eaten contaminated food suffered kidney failure. Regulations on melamine are fairly new and not consolidated yet.

Skip to 4 minutes and 27 secondsFor milk products, the most common melamine limits established by different countries are 1 milligramme per kilogramme for infants formula. And 2.5 milligramme per kilogramme for other milk and milk based foods. Or all other foods. Less than 1 milligramme per kilogramme in the environment or food chain is unlikely to cause adverse health effects. In terms of toxicity and health risks, melamine does not damage DNA in cells. Therefore it is not a mutagen, nor does it cause birth defects. For the IARC carcinogen classification it is currently defined as group 3, which means it is not classifiable as carcinogenic to humans.

Skip to 5 minutes and 16 secondsHowever, acute high levels of exposure can cause urinary tract stones and proliferation of epithelial cells of urinary bladder in experimental animals. In 2008, WHO established a tolerable daily intake, TDI, of 0.2 milligramme per kilogramme body weight for melamine, which applied to the whole population, including infants. In the same year, the Food Drug Administration published an interim safety risk assessment on melamine and its structure analogues.

Skip to 5 minutes and 53 secondsIt established the TDI of 0.63 milligramme per kilogramme body weight for melamine and its analogues.

Skip to 6 minutes and 2 secondsTherefore, the WHO and the FDA have currently defined the different acceptable levels of melamine in food products. Research in this area is still ongoing.

Melamine and acrylamide

In the final video of this section, we will begin by looking at two specific toxins: Acrylamide and Melamine.

Acrylamide is a process toxin whereas melamine is a man-made toxin. Acrylamide was first detected and reported in food in 2002, but it is likely to have always been present in our food.

Acrylamide is formed by the reaction between reducing sugar and amino acid asparagine in food, known as the Maillard Reaction, typically formed during high-temperature cooking, e.g. frying, baking and roasting. Acrylamide is toxic to the nervous system in both animals and humans, and may be a human carcinogen although evidence to date is still inconclusive.

In recognition of the food safety and public health risk posed by acrylamide, EU member states voted in 2017 in favour of a proposal to move to reduce the presence of acrylamide in foods such as fries, crisps, bread, biscuits, or coffee.

This new regulation (Regulation (EU) 2017/2158) was recently implemented in April 2018, and requires food manufacturers, fast-food chains and restaurants to take measures to ensure that acrylamide in their products is below defined benchmark levels.

Melamine is not natural to food, but a man-made food contaminant. The impact of melamine was seen in 2008 when thousands of infants and young children suffered acute kidney failure and death in China due to consumption of infant formula containing melamine which was added to boost nitrogen levels and artificially increase the apparent protein content of milk.

Some questions for you to consider

  • Were you aware of the recent developments with regards to new EU regulations aimed at reducing acrylamide levels in foods?

  • The introduction of this new regulation has generated considerable debate – do you believe the regulation goes far enough?

  • Are the levels set too high or a realistic first step to enable businesses to modify their current production processes over time?

If you would like to find out more about acrylamide some additional reading can be found in the ‘see also’ section and is also found here.

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This video is from the free online course:

Tackling Global Food Safety

Queen's University Belfast