Acrylamide in food: Progress in and prospects for genetic and agronomic solutions

Ann Appl Biol. 2019 Nov;175(3):259-281. doi: 10.1111/aab.12536. Epub 2019 Aug 7.


Acrylamide is a processing contaminant and Group 2a carcinogen that was discovered in foodstuffs in 2002. Its presence in a range of popular foods has become one of the most difficult problems facing the food industry and its supply chain. Wheat, rye and potato products are major sources of dietary acrylamide, with biscuits, breakfast cereals, bread (particularly toasted), crispbread, batter, cakes, pies, French fries, crisps and snack products all affected. Here we briefly review the history of the issue, detection methods, the levels of acrylamide in popular foods and the risk that dietary acrylamide poses to human health. The pathways for acrylamide formation from free (non-protein) asparagine are described, including the role of reducing sugars such as glucose, fructose and maltose and the Maillard reaction. The evolving regulatory situation in the European Union and elsewhere is discussed, noting that food businesses and their suppliers must plan to comply not only with current regulations but with possible future regulatory scenarios. The main focus of the review is on the genetic and agronomic approaches being developed to reduce the acrylamide-forming potential of potatoes and cereals and these are described in detail, including variety selection, plant breeding, biotechnology and crop management. Obvious targets for genetic interventions include asparagine synthetase genes, and the asparagine synthetase gene families of different crop species are compared. Current knowledge on crop management best practice is described, including maintaining optimum storage conditions for potatoes and ensuring sulphur sufficiency and disease control for wheat.

Keywords: cereals; crop composition; crop disease; crop nutrition; crop storage; food safety; potato; processing contaminants; rye; wheat.