Health Canada confirmed it had placed acrylamide onto Schedule 1 of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 in order to minimise the public’s exposure to the chemical which Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq said “may pose a risk to human health”. Acrylamide is produced industrially for use in products such as plastics, grouts, water treatment products, and cosmetics. Acrylamide is also found in cigarette smoke.
Acrylamide first came onto the health and safety agenda in 2002 when scientists at the Swedish Food Administration reported unexpectedly high levels of acrylamide in carbohydrate-rich foods and published evidence linking the chemical to cancer in laboratory rats.
The majority of acrylamide is used in the production of polymers which are then used to manufacture food packaging. But the primary source of exposure is from food sources – although the level is low, said Health Canada. The chemical is produced when starchy foods are cooked at high temperatures. It forms by a reaction, known as the Maillard effect, between sugar and an amino acid called asparagine, which creates the brown color and tasty flavor of baked, fried and toasted foods.
High temperature cooking, such as frying, roasting, or baking, is most likely to cause acrylamide formation. Boiling and steaming do not typically form acrylamide. Acrylamide is found mainly in foods made from plants, such as potato products, grain products, or coffee.
Acrylamide does not form, or forms at lower levels, in dairy, meat, and fish products. Generally, acrylamide is more likely to accumulate when cooking is done for longer periods or at higher temperatures.
Health Canada is the federal department responsible for helping Canadians maintain and improve their health, while respecting individual choices and circumstances. It is roughly the equivalent of the U.S. FDA.