Acrylamide is a substance that forms through a natural chemical reaction between sugars and asparagine, an amino acid, in plant-based foods – including potato and cereal-grain-based foods. Acrylamide forms during high-temperature cooking, such as frying, roasting, and baking. In research studies, high levels of acrylamide caused cancer in laboratory animals, but the levels of acrylamide used in these studies were much greater than those found in human food. The FDA monitors levels of this contaminant in certain foods because of its potential to affect human health.
Although it's not clear exactly what risk acrylamide poses to humans, the FDA has recommendations for both consumers and industry about how to reduce acrylamide formation in foods. In 2016, the FDA developed a Guidance for Industry that outlines strategies to help growers, manufacturers, and food service operators reduce acrylamide in the food supply. And for consumers, the FDA has developed resources that contain information about acrylamide and ways to reduce exposure from foods prepared at home. See the More Information for Consumers section below.
Acrylamide has been shown to cause cancer in animals exposed to very high doses, and although there is no consistent epidemiological evidence on the effect of acrylamide from food consumption on cancer in humans, both the U.S. National Toxicology Program and the Joint Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) consider acrylamide to be a human health concern.
Acrylamide exposure can be detected by testing for the presence of acrylamide markers in the blood. According to scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, markers of acrylamide exposure can be found in the blood of 99.9% of the U.S. population; however, finding these markers does not imply that their presence will result in adverse health effects.
As new research on the effect of acrylamide exposure becomes available, FDA experts will consider it in their continued evaluation of the risk that acrylamide may pose to human health.
The FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) monitors contaminant levels in foods, including acrylamide, to inform FDA actions and protect public health. In 2003, the FDA developed methods to detect and quantify acrylamide, and has used this methodology to assess how much acrylamide the average U.S. consumer is exposed to through food.
By 2006, the FDA had tested more than 2,600 hundred samples for acrylamide. These included both individually purchased food products and samples from the FDA’s Total Diet Study. In 2011 and 2015, the FDA collected an additional 2,500 samples to be tested for acrylamide. These samples included individually purchased food products from retail markets or restaurants.
The FDA methodology for detecting acrylamide in foods is found on the Detection and Quantitation of Acrylamide in Foods web page.
Analytical Results of Testing Acrylamide in Foods
2011 – 2015 Analytical Results and Exposure Assessment
Between 2011 and 2015, the FDA collected approximately 2500 individual food product samples to study acrylamide levels in foods. Samples included food products known to contain higher levels of acrylamide. These 2011 – 2015 data were collected as a follow up to the data collected from 2002 - 2006, although the products and product brands of foods sampled vary.
The most recent data, as compared to earlier sampling, indicate significant decreases in acrylamide concentrations in potato chips and crackers; while acrylamide levels in other foods generally did not decrease significantly. Decreased acrylamide concentrations in potato chips and crackers suggest that some mitigating strategies are being used by industry; however, the continued presence of acrylamide in food suggests efforts to reduce acrylamide should continue.
This research contributes to the body of literature intended to inform strategies to promote a healthy food supply.
Because of unit-to-unit and lot-to-lot variation in acrylamide levels within food products, data are not designed to be used to inform consumer food choices. However, when considered collectively, these data can be useful in estimating overall exposures, and exposures by food product category.
- Survey Data on Acrylamide in Foods: Individual Food Products September 2019
- Acrylamide levels and dietary exposure from foods in the United States, an update based on 2011-2015 data. Abt, E., Robin, L. P., McGrath, S., Srinivasan, J., DiNovi, M., Adachi, Y., & Chirtel, S. Food Additives & Contaminants: Part A, 2019, 1-16.
2002 – 2006 Analytical Results and Exposure Assessments
In 2002, the FDA began to analyze a variety of U.S. food products for acrylamide. The data presented in the links below are results from analysis of individual food product samples and composite food samples from FDA's Total Diet Study (TDS).
Data collected from 2002 - 2006 were part of the FDA’s formative efforts to understand acrylamide in foods, estimate exposure to acrylamide, and to develop effective mitigating strategies.
Because of unit-to-unit and lot-to-lot variation in acrylamide levels within food products, these data are only reflective of acrylamide levels in the individual purchased food products tested. Taken as a whole, the data can be used to estimate overall exposure to acrylamide, including exposures by food product category.
The FDA guidance for industry provides information to help growers, manufacturers, and food service operators reduce acrylamide levels in certain foods. The 2016 guidance document does not identify any specific maximum recommended level or action level for acrylamide and is intended to describe our current recommendations for reducing acrylamide in foods.
FDA experts participate in an international standard-setting body, Codex Alimentarius Commission (Codex). The purpose of Codex is to protect the health of consumers and promote fair trade practices by adopting scientifically based standards, guidelines, and codes of practice across all areas of food safety and quality. Its work includes reviewing scientific data and information on good manufacturing practices concerning acrylamide and other contaminant levels in foods. These international discussions can lead to recommendations for standards individual countries may adopt. Recommendations from Codex about reducing acrylamide in foods can be found in the Codex Code of Practice for the Reduction of Acrylamide in Foods.
From the FDA
- You Can Help Cut Acrylamide in Your Diet
- Acrylamide Questions and Answers
- Acrylamide: Information on Diet, Food Storage, and Food Preparation
From Other Federal and International Governmental Agencies and Industry