Essential Science IndicatorsSMfrom
Reuters, the paper "Acrylamide from Maillard reaction
products," (Stadler RH, et al., Nature 419:
449-50, 3 October 2002) is currently ranked at #5 among
Highly Cited Papers in Agricultural Sciences, with 379
citations up to June 30th of this
In the interview below, lead author Dr.
Richard Stadler of the Nestlé Product Technology
Center in Orbe, Switzerland, talks with
ScienceWatch.com about the paper and its impact on
the food industry.
What factors prompted you and your
co-authors to undertake this study?
Acrylamide was first discovered in food in April 2002 by the Swedish
National Food Authority that reported the presence of acrylamide in certain
types of food cooked at high temperatures. The food industry was of course
very concerned at this discovery and took this finding very seriously.
Thus, all our efforts were focused on very quickly developing appropriate
analytical methods in the different food matrices, and then trying to
explain how acrylamide is formed in foods, i.e., elucidate the mechanistic
How was it conducted, and what were your
We were fortunate to have at our disposal the appropriate equipment (tandem
mass spectrometers) and scientists with many years of experience in trace
analysis, complemented by an in-depth knowledge of food and natural
products chemistry. It took us approximately two to three weeks to develop
an analytical method by isotope dilution mass spectrometry and confirm the
asparagine as a
In parallel, we employed model systems and heated different amino acids
either alone or together with reducing sugars to determine the precursor(s)
of acrylamide. From a structural point of view, asparagine and glutamine
were good candidates, and indeed, we were the first laboratory able to
demonstrate that asparagine forms the acrylamide backbone via the Maillard
reaction by using stable isotope-labeled asparagine (published in our
How was the paper received by the community?
The paper was widely cited and had very good media coverage,
together, I must add, with a paper on the same subject and published by
Prof. Don Mottram and co-workers (Mottram DS, Wedzicha BL, Dodson AT,
"Acrylamide is formed in the Maillard reaction," Nature 419:
448-9, 3 October 2002). Both papers showed essentially the same route of
formation of acrylamide and both are today considered the source of
reference with regard to acrylamide formation in foods.
Where have you taken your acrylamide research since this
The early work on the mechanisms of formation opened several opportunities
to mitigate acrylamide. Today, we are leading the European Food & Drink
Industry initiatives on identifying approaches for the reduction of
acrylamide in the concerned foods, and the output of these activities are
reflected in the Confederation of the Food and Drink Industries of the EU
(CIAA) Acrylamide Toolbox.
The Acrylamide Toolbox brings together those methods of acrylamide
reduction that are known to work in the production process and reviews
other proposed methods that are at either the pilot plant or laboratory
scale stage. The objective of the Toolbox is to provide practical
tools that food manufacturers can use to reduce acrylamide according to
their particular situation. Using a selection of these tools, food
manufacturers have been able to reduce acrylamide levels in some foods by
around 40%. The Toolbox is a dynamic concept and is regularly
updated as new methods of mitigation are introduced. In fact, the
Toolbox is recommended for use on the European Commission website.
A further achievement was the issuance of the Acrylamide
Pamphlets. These are meant to assist the small-medium enterprises in
the implementation of the Toolbox, and were developed jointly by
the CIAA and the European Commission, Directorate General Health and
Consumer Protection (DG-SANCO), in collaboration with national authorities
for five key sectors: Biscuits, Crackers & Crispbreads, Bread Products,
Breakfast Cereals, and Fried Potato Products, such as Potato Crisps and
French Fries. Individual operators can use the tools outlined in the
pamphlets to adapt their unique production systems.
pamphlets are available in > 20 languages on the
In fact, the way in which the acrylamide issue was addressed is an
excellent example of how public authorities, industry, and academia can
closely work together and come to a tangible result like the Acrylamide
Toolbox and Acrylamide Pamphlets to ensure that the foods we
consume are safe.
What would you say to the general public about
Acrylamide is formed naturally during the cooking process irrespective of
whether the food is prepared in a food factory, a restaurant, or in a
domestic kitchen, and has probably been part of our diet for thousands of
There is strong consensus that a balanced and varied diet, which includes
plenty of fruit and vegetables, and avoiding overcooking of food, will
contribute to further reducing acrylamide levels. Trying to avoid eating
food that may contain acrylamide would compromise efforts to eat a balanced
diet. According to estimates from the US Food and Drug Administration, more
than 40% of our daily energy intake is from foods that contain some
The food and drink industry will continue its constructive approach and
apply the appropriate techniques outlined in the Acrylamide
Toolbox. There is no simple solution to remove acrylamide from the
human diet, and industry will continue to work closely with the scientific
community and relevant authorities to update best practice in mitigation.
In addition, society must also address acrylamide formation in home cooking
through better public education and information campaigns.
Dr. Richard Stadler
Nestlé Product Technology Center