A chemical, which has been linked in the past to an increased risk of cancer, has been found in several commercial baby foods.
Every year the Food Standards Agency conducts tests for acrylamide, the substance linked to cancer. Their 2013 report found the presence of this chemical in three baby foods, namely Heinz, Organix and Sunny Start, and also in several brands of crisps, cereals and some frozen chips.
The chemical develops during the cooking process known as the ‘Maillard reaction’. This is where there is a chemical reaction between amino acids and reducing sugars that produces a browned, caramelised or seared effect, and ultimately gives more flavour. Pan-fried steaks, the browned crusts of breads, and cooking onions until they are brown all go through the Maillard Reaction.
However, even though some of this chemical is expected in foods, the FSA found higher levels of acrylamide than they were anticipating, and now have launched an investigation into why the levels are so pronounced.
So far the FSA have not go so far as warn people off the named products, but on their website they do advise that when toasting bread for example, people should only lightly brown the sides, and cook chips to a golden colour. They also advised against storing potatoes in the fridge as this increases the sugar level, which is linked to browning.
The agency explained that the reason they got involved in testing for acrylamide levels in the first place was that despite there being no ‘safety level’ for acrylamide, there are indicative levels (IV’s). These are set by the European Commission Recommendations.
If a product exceeds its IV, then the FSA will step in and ask the relevant local authority to investigate, however, exceeding the IV does not mean there is a health risk, as the FSA were keen to point out. Exceeding the IV acts as a trigger for the authorities to take further action.
For now, the FSA are saying that the levels are not significantly high enough for people to stop eating the products named. Meanwhile other experts are still worried about the effect of this substance in our diets.
The World Health Organisation has said the chemical ‘indicates a human health concern’ when found in food, and Dr Diane Benford, who is an FSA specialist and leads the EFSA’s committee on food contaminants, said that when acrylamide breaks down in the body, another substance called glycidamide is formed:
“Glycidamide is the most likely cause of gene mutations and tumours seen in animal studies,” she said.
As for the British Retail Consortium, a group that represents supermarkets, they were quick to point out that in actual fact, acrylamide levels in food are falling. It added: “Retailers will continue to work with suppliers to limit the occurrence of acrylamide in foods.”
For the three named baby brands, Heinz stated that they no longer sold the affected baby cereal, Sunny Start issued a statement in which they said that safety is ‘incredibly important’ and that it is investigating the ‘anomalous’ result.
And Organix said it has reduced levels in its rice cakes since the tests and advised consumers that there is ‘no cause for concern’.
Sources: FSA, MailOnline