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The NCA Guide to Acrylamide & Coffee

Coffee has a complex (and fascinating) natural  profile.

There are at least 300 natural compounds in a single bean, and about 1,000 created in the roasting process. These chemicals include caffeine (of course), antioxidants, and minerals.  

Overwhelming research shows that regular coffee consumption is linked to a host of potential health benefits, from liver health to longevity. Together, the chemicals in coffee work together to create a delicious beverage that can be part of a healthy lifestyle. 

However, aggressive Proposition 65 labeling legislation in California has called into question the safety of one of these chemicals, acrylamide.

While we encourage consumers to do their research and make good choices, the amount of acrylamide in coffee is negligible does not present a risk - even when consumed in larger or more frequent quantities. In fact, the Word Health Organization recently removed coffee from a list of potential carcinogens in an unprecedented (and positive) move. 

Here's what you need to know, based on the work of leading scientists in nutrition and food safety. 

NCA Scientific White Paper: Acrylamide*

*Available to NCA members only

Acrylamide FAQs

Is there a health concern?

Acrylamide occurs in food naturally during cooking. The FDA and other regulatory agencies do not recommend that people stop eating fried, roasted, or baked foods because of the natural presence of acrylamide, but instead recommend adopting an overall healthy eating plan.

What is acrylamide (AA)?

Acrylamide has been formed naturally during the “browning” process in foods and beverages, and so has been present since people began cooking with fire. 

Why is acrylamide in coffee? 

Acrylamide forms naturally when many foods are cooked – French fries, potato chips, crackers, bread, cereal, cooked asparagus and canned olives, to name a few. As with other foods, acrylamide is formed naturally when coffee is roasted; it is not “put in” coffee by manufacturers.

How much acrylamide is found in foods and beverages?  

The U.S. government has been collecting information on acrylamide in foods, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has published an assessment of acrylamide in foods, including the concentrations outlined below. The FDA also notes that brewed coffee represents less than 1% of Americans’ intake of acrylamide from food.  

 Food  Average Acrylamide Concentration (µg/kg or ppb)*
Potato chips   597.5
French fries (restaurant)  404.1
French fries (oven-baked)  397.8
Canned black olives
 242.8
Prune juice  214.4
Breakfast cereal
 119.4
Postum (coffee substitute)
 93
Brewed coffee  7.8

* µg/kg = micrograms per kilogram, which is also referred to as ppb or parts per billion.  For perspective, 1 ppb would be equivalent to about 3 seconds in a century or 3 ounces in 100,000 tons.

Is there a health concern? 

Acrylamide is found in minute quantities in roasted coffee. It has been shown to cause cancer in rodents exposed to very high levels of the compound in their drinking water. However, it is highly unlikely to have an effect on humans at the minute levels encountered naturally in cooked foods and beverages. In fact, studies link coffee consumption with a protective effect against certain cancers in humans. 

Related reading

Why You Can Probably Stop Freaking Out About Acrylamide in Your Coffee, The New Food Economy