Coffee Composition FAQs

Acrylamide

What is acrylamide and how is it formed?
Acrylamide is a compound formed during cooking, particularly at high temperatures (above 120OC)1 such as seen during frying, baking and roasting, including the roasting of coffee beans. It can be found in potato crisps, potato chips, biscuits, crackers, bread, breakfast cereals, as well as in coffee.

Is acrylamide a concern to human health?
Prolonged exposure to acrylamide is known to cause cancer in animals but no direct evidence exists of a link between acrylamide and cancer in humans2.

The Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives3 concluded that acrylamide is a human health concern, but other groups including the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment in Germany have concluded that a link between acrylamide intake and cancer in humans can neither be excluded or proven. A Scientific Opinion on the safety of acylamide is expected from EFSA in 2014.

What action is being taken to monitor levels of acrylamide in food?
The EU has established maximum guidance values for acrylamide for the main food categories where it can be found.  Additionally, EFSA has a programme for monitoring acrylamide levels across Europe, in which it collates data from governments as well as the food industry.

The WHO has also reviewed intakes of acrylamide in the diet and has stated that there is not enough evidence on acrylamide in any one food type to recommend avoiding any particular food4.

The most recent monitoring report can be accessed here.

Are the levels of acrylamide in coffee dangerous?
Regular moderate coffee consumption is not considered to raise any concerns regarding exposure to acrylamide. Furthermore, the WHO has stated that there is not enough evidence on acrylamide in any one food type to recommend avoiding any particular food.

There is substantial scientific evidence showing that coffee consumption is not associated with an increased risk of developing cancer. Further information can be found in the Cancer section here.

What action is being taken by the coffee industry to reduce levels of acrylamide?
Industry research programmes are in place to review all aspects of coffee processing, especially roasting, which could be involved in the formation of acrylamide in coffee. The aim is to identify opportunities to ensure acrylamide levels are below the EU guidance values, without affecting the quality of coffee.

Furan

What is furan and how is it formed?
Furan is a compound formed when certain foods are heated to high temperatures. It can be found in many foods including canned vegetables, soups, sauces, stews, savoury snacks, baby foods, breakfast cereals, crackers as well as coffee5.

Does furan pose a risk for health?
Concerns have arisen from studies in animals that suggest a link between furan intake and the development of some cancers, notably liver cancer5. However, to date there has not been any research in humans to confirm this.

The tests linking furan to potential health concerns have only been conducted in animals exposed to levels much higher than those found in the diet – equivalent to an adult drinking 10,000 cups of coffee a day for two years – but no studies have been conducted with humans.

What procedures are in place to monitor levels of furan in food?
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) undertakes regular monitoring of furan levels in food based on information from governments and food companies across the European Union. The latest report can be accessed here.

Does drinking coffee increase intakes of furan?
Furan levels reduce during preparation and brewing by up to 90%. Food safety authorities have reviewed the scientific evidence on furan and have confirmed that consumers do not need to alter their diets to avoid furan.

There is substantial scientific evidence showing that coffee consumption is not associated with an increased risk of developing cancer6.7 including liver cancer. Further information can be found in the Cancer section here.

Ochratoxin A

What is Ochratoxin A and how is it formed?
Ochratoxin A (OTA) is a mycotoxin formed from mould that can develop on badly stored green (unroasted) coffee beans. OTA can be found in a number of different foods including cereals and dried vine fruits when they are stored under inappropriate, humid conditions.

Does Ochratoxin A (OTA) pose a risk in coffee?
No. The coffee industry has been actively involved in programmes to educate growers and producers in the best agricultural practices to minimise the risk of mould formation.  Moreover, levels of OTA are monitored by manufacturers to ensure compliance with the EU regulations on finished products. Consequently, OTA is not considered to be a problem in coffee today.

The European Coffee Federation has produced a ‘Code of Practice for the Prevention of Mould Formation’ available from the ECF Web Site.

Diterpenes

What are diterpenes and what effect do they have?
The diterpenes cafestol and kahweol are compounds that are naturally present in coffee oil. They are known to have an impact on cholesterol levels8 if consumed in significant amounts.

So does drinking coffee increase cholesterol levels?
Scientific evidence shows that substantial intake of diterpenes can increase cholesterol levels. The diterpene content of coffee depends on the method of preparation.  For example, filter coffee contains few diterpenes as they are retained in the paper filter. In contrast, Scandinavian boiled coffee, Cafetière (or plunger pot), Greek and Turkish coffee contain higher levels of these compounds. Soluble coffee contains hardly any of the cholesterol-raising compounds, whilst espresso contains roughly half the amount of unfiltered coffee. As it is served in small quantities, a moderate consumption of espresso coffee can be expected to have a negligible effect on serum cholesterol levels8,9.

This information is intended for Healthcare professional audiences.
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