The food industry is working with European Commission officials on a programme to monitor and reduce acrylamide levels in their products.
Small working groups are also being set up develop information brochures, with the first meetings scheduled for September, the UK's Food Standards Agency said in a document issued yesterday.
The FSA is calling for input on what information should be included in the brochures and what format they should take.
The decision was taken at a meeting held by the European Commission in March, with representatives from member states, the US, industry, researchers and consumers.
Reducing acrylamide in foods can only help improve the public perception about food safety, which has suffered in recent years.
Acrylamide hit the headlines in 2002 when scientists at the Swedish Food Administration first reported unexpectedly high levels of the potential carcinogen in carbohydrate-rich foods cooked at high temperatures. Until then acrylamide was known only as a highly reactive industrial chemical, present also at low levels for example in tobacco smoke.
Studies indicate that the chemical causes cancer in rats. Toxicological data suggested that this substance might be - directly or indirectly - carcinogenic also for humans.
The news, and surrounding controversy over the chemical, jolted the EU's food industry into tackling the issue by looking at ways processing can reduce the levels of acrylamide.
The current EU-wide effort follows a bid by the Confederation of the Food and Drink Industries of the EU (CIAA) to help its members reduce acrylamide in their products.
Last year the CIAA issued a set of guidelines outlining successful procedures on reducing acrylamide formation during manufacturing processes. The guidelines are a means of sharing research information garnered by the larger companies to those who do not have the money or resources to do the job properly.
The new effort between the CIAA, the Commission and national food safety agencies would establish a community-monitoring programme for acrylamide.
The monitoring programme will focus on products that are particularly susceptible to acrylamide formation. A small working group with experts from member states will be set up, with the first meeting to be held sometime this month.
"This programme will enable risk managers to see any changes in levels of acrylamide over time and to identify priorities for risk management," the FSA stated
An EU programme for consumer advice will be established by the European consumer organisation, the BEUC. The framework will form the basis for more specific advice that will be delivered at national level.
Meanwhile the UK and the US will draft a code of practice on the chemical. It will be presented at a Codex committee meeting, scheduled for the end of April.
In other related news the FSA is also working on a code of practice for the EU dealing with methods to reduce chloropropanols during the production of acid hydrolysed vegetable protein (HVPs) and products that contain acid-HVPs.
A draft paper indicated that information was still lacking on the preparation of acid-HVPs, control of the acid hydrolysis step and the use of alkaline treatments.
The FSA has agreed to consider changing the focus of the code of practice, so that only 3-MCPD is discussed.
The proposed maximum level of 0.4 mg/kg for 3-MCPD in liquid condiments containing acid-HVPs discussed at the previous session (37th Session) was not discussed in great detail. The Commission also held a meeting on analytical methods for furan in May, the FSA reported.
The discussions focussed on the different methods of analysis for furan, the need for European proficiency testing on furan, and the need for more data relating to the occurrence of furan in foods.
The reliability of the different analytical methods was discussed and it was agreed that a modified method developed by the US was the most reliable, the FSA stated.
"The coffee industry has plans to undertake a collaborative method validation exercise and will carry out an investigation into the occurrence levels of furan in domestically prepared coffee," the FSA stated.
Participants agreed that the European Food Safety Authority will develop a database on the chemical. The information for the database will be collected by member states and will allow the EFSA to carry out estimates of dietary exposure based on data from occurrence levels in different food categories.
In another meeting held last month member states and the European Commission discussed ways to tackle ethylcarbamate in foods and alcoholic beverages.
The submitted data on the chemical will be passed to EFSA, which has been asked to provide a risk assessment based on intake and toxicity data.
The Commission also agreed to ask EFSA to look into how levels of cyanide relate to levels of ethylcarbamate.