A new tool aimed at monitoring acrylamide formation during food processing can offer rapid detection of the chemical, claims a research group in France.
Researchers at the Institute Polytechnique LaSalle in Beauvais, France said that they have developed a sensor that uses a front face fluorescence technique to predict the levels of potentially hazardous neo-formed contaminants (NFC) that can result from heating foods.
The processed food industry uses heat treatment to induce a chemical effect, known as the Maillard reaction, to produce hundreds of different flavour compounds and aromas.
However, the Maillard reaction can also reduce nutritional availability of certain amino acids and produce harmful chemicals such as acrylamide, which can damage the nervous system and is suspected of being carcinogenic, said the research group.
Fluorescence spectroscopy, according to the researchers, is a rapid, non-destructive analytical technique with high sensitivity and specificity and its use in food research has increased in recent years.
"Front face fluorescence is a fast way to detect all the changes that occur in the optical properties of food under heat," said LaSalle Beauvais researcher Ines Birlouez.
The research group said that the principal of the technique is to correlate heat-induced changes in the bi-dimensional fluorescence images of the food to NFC concentration.
Robust and precise prediction models for acrylamide in food products such as potato chips and biscuits were attained using a three-way PARAFAC decomposition model, said Birlouez.
The equipment, which allows data sampling from the food product at the various stages of cooking and chilling, is effective for identifying critical steps to aid process optimization, said the researchers.
The development of the NFC detection tool is funded through the European Collective Research Project, ICARE.
ICARE, which involves small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), European research centres as well as industrial association/groupings, was established in January 2006 to assist SMEs measure NFC levels in food.
Ines Birlouez told FoodProductionDaily.com that the recent discovery of acrylamide in a variety of fried and baked foods has highlighted the fact that agro-food enterprises and especially small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are poorly prepared to face the emerging problem.
"Due to a lack of knowledge and inappropriate analytical and technological tools, SMEs are presently not able to fully control the impact of the different steps of processing on the NFC level. We have developed this sensor to help SMEs monitor NFCs such as acrylamide all along the production line," said Birlouez.
Birlouez added that the sensor will be trialed with small and medium sized industrial partners to test its effectiveness on a number of lines and products and it will be on the market by the end of 2008 or early 2009.
Acrylamide risk assessment
Efforts to reduce acrylamide remain a priority as the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recently concluded that risk assessments regarding the carcinogen will stay the same.
EFSA organised a scientific colloquium in Italy, last month, to debate how the current position of acrylamide may have changed since conclusions regarding its safety in 2005, as well as future challenges on its potential toxicity and cancer risk.
Following a review of the evidence on the chemical, EFSA said: "The consensus among the scientists was that the latest evaluation on acrylamide carried out by the Joint Food and Agriculture organisation and World Health Organisation (JEFCA) agreed by EFSA, was still relevant and there is currently no need to revise the risk assessment.
"However, additional new data are expected to become available within the next year that may reduce uncertainties and hence may call for revision of the risk assessment advice," EFSA added.
In 2005, EFSA endorsed a risk assessment on acrylamide in food, which was carried out by JEFCA.
It decided the margins of exposure for average and high consumption consumers were low for a compound that is genotoxic and carcinogenic, and that this factor may indicate a human health concern.