Acrylamide is a synthetic monomer with a wide scope of industrial applications, mainly as a precursor in the production of several polymers, such as polyacrylamide. The main uses of polyacrylamides are in water and wastewater treatment processes, pulp and paper processing, and mining and mineral processing. The announcement by the Swedish National Food Administration in April 2002 of the presence of acrylamide predominantly in heat-treated carbohydrate-rich foods sparked intensive investigations into acrylamide, encompassing the occurrence, chemistry, agricultural practices, and toxicology, in order to establish if there is a potential risk to human health from the presence of this contaminant in the human diet. The link of acrylamide in foods to the Maillard reaction and, in particular, to the amino acid asparagine has been a major step forward in elucidating the first feasible chemical route of formation during the preparation and processing of food. Other probably minor pathways have also been proposed, including acrolein and acrylic acid. This review addresses the analytical and mechanistic aspects of the acrylamide issue and summarizes the progress made to date by the European food industries in these key areas. Essentially, it presents experimental results generated under laboratory model conditions, as well as under actual food processing conditions covering different food categories, such as potatoes, biscuits, cereals, and coffee. Since acrylamide formation is closely linked to food composition, factors such as the presence of sugars and availability of free amino acids are also considered. Many new findings that contribute towards a better understanding of the formation and presence of acrylamide in foods are presented. Many national authorities across the world are assessing the dietary exposure of consumers to acrylamide, and scientific projects have commenced to gather new information about the toxicology of acrylamide. These are expected to provide new scientific knowledge that will help to clarify whether or not there is a risk to human health from the consumption of foods containing low amounts of acrylamide.