Acrylamide – Q & A from FDA

U. S. Department of Health and Human Services
U. S. Food and Drug Administration
Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition

February 25, 2003

1. What is acrylamide?

Acrylamide is a chemical with a variety of industrial uses.

2. Where is acrylamide found?

Acrylamide is used to make polyacrylamide, which is used, for example, in some cosmetics and in some food packaging materials (e.g., paperboard and paperboard products subject to FDA food additive regulations), in soil conditioning agents, and in the formation of plastics and specialized grouting agents. Polyacrylamide also is used to treat sewage and wastewater and to purify drinking water. Polyacrylamide is not toxic; however, in each of these uses, some of the original acrylamide remains in the finished product in very small quantities. In addition, acrylamide is known to be a component of cigarette smoke. Recently, acrylamide has been detected in a wide range of food products.

3. How was acrylamide detected in food?

Swedish scientists studying the results of occupational acrylamide exposure detected signs of acrylamide exposure (or markers of acrylamide exposure) in people who were not known to have been exposed to acrylamide from environmental or industrial sources. They discovered that one source of the unanticipated acrylamide exposure was cooked food products and announced these findings in April 2002. Many countries have since confirmed the Swedish findings.

4. Has acrylamide been detected in U.S. foods?

Yes. Right after the Swedish announcement, FDA began a testing program and found acrylamide in U.S. foods. Acrylamide is expected to form in cooked foods worldwide.

5. Has acrylamide suddenly appeared in food?

No. Acrylamide appears to be a result of traditional cooking methods, e.g., baking, frying, and roasting, and is believed to have been present in cooked foods for thousands of years. Acrylamide in food is not the result of contamination from environmental sources.

6. What is the risk of illness from eating foods contaminated with acrylamide?

Acrylamide has been shown to cause cancer in animals in studies where they were exposed to the chemical at very high doses. Acrylamide has also been shown to cause nerve damage in people who have been exposed to very high levels at work. As acrylamide has only very recently been discovered in food, FDA is not able to make a determination regarding the public health impact of acrylamide from the very low levels found in foods. However, FDA scientists' concern about acrylamide in food has prompted additional studies to determine its potential risk to human health.

7. How is acrylamide formed in food?

Scientists around the world are trying to determine how acrylamide is formed in food, but at this point it is not exactly understood how it is formed. What is known is that acrylamide has been found in high-carbohydrate foods cooked at high temperatures. Acrylamide does not appear to be present or is present at non-detectable levels in uncooked foods.{Emphasis added} Recent studies by scientists in the United States, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland suggest that foods rich in a specific amino acid, known as asparagine, and glucose can form acrylamide when cooked at high temperatures.

8. What kinds of cooking lead to acrylamide formation?

It appears that high temperature cooking methods, such as frying, roasting, or baking, can lead to formation of acrylamide in foods. However, the levels formed vary widely among different products and between production lots of the same food products. The information so far indicates that boiling food does not lead to measurable acrylamide formation.

9. What is FDA doing about acrylamide in food?

FDA has developed an Action Plan with the goal of reducing the potential risk of acrylamide in foods to the greatest extent feasible. On September 30, FDA held a meeting to solicit comments from the public on the facets of this plan. The Action Plan is on the FDA Web site,

10. What does FDA's draft Action Plan include?

FDA will continue to study acrylamide in a wide variety of foods in an effort to understand the scope and impact of this chemical in the U.S. food supply. FDA will investigate how acrylamide is formed in food, seek to identify ways to reduce acrylamide levels, and study the potential human health risk of consuming acrylamide in foods. FDA is collaborating with other Federal public health agencies, international partners, academia, consumers, and the food-processing industry to coordinate efforts related to acrylamide in foods.

Over the next several months, FDA expects to gather further information about acrylamide in food. The collected information was taken to the Contaminants and Natural Toxicants Subcommittee meeting on December 4-5, 2002. The Subcommittee was asked to review the available data on acrylamide in foods, and to review and to provide feedback on the Action Plan — to ascertain that it includes the right kind of research and that the research is prioritized correctly, as well as to identify any gaps in the research.

As new information becomes available, FDA will share its findings with consumers and the food industry and develop education materials on how to reduce potential risk.

11. What should consumers do to avoid acrylamide in food?

Until more is known, FDA continues to recommend that consumers eat a balanced diet, choosing a variety of foods that are low in trans fat and saturated fat, and rich in high-fiber grains, fruits, and vegetables.

12. Why is acrylamide used in the treatment of drinking water?

Acrylamide is used to make polyacrylamide, which is used as a flocculant. Polyacrylamide combines with solid material to make it easier to filter and remove solids from the water. It is used because it is the only polymer that is known to adequately remove certain particles from the water. Polyacrylamide is not toxic as it is used in water. The only potential risk is from the very small amount of residual non-polymerized acrylamide, which is minimized by production practices.

13. Are acrylamide levels in organic foods different from levels in other foods?

Since it appears that acrylamide is formed through traditional cooking methods, there is no reason to believe that acrylamide levels in cooked organic foods would be any different from levels in cooked foods that are not organic.

14. What FDA data are available on acrylamide in U.S. foods?

FDA has posted its exploratory data on acrylamide in foods collected as of November 15, 2002, on its Web site at


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