Acrylamide levels said to vary greatly in foods

December 9, 2002 in Cancer Prevention

Acrylamide levels said to vary greatly in foods

Levels of a possible cancer-causing chemical, called acrylamide, vary widely among foods, and even from one bag of potato chips to another of the same brand, according to preliminary findings from the US FDA. Scientists around the world are working to determine how much acrylamide is in certain foods, in response to Swedish research that found it in fried foods and some foods baked at high temperatures.

High levels of acrylamide cause cancer in mice, but scientists do not know whether it can cause cancer in people. Researchers want to answer that question, as well as determine whether food acrylamide levels can be reduced by changes to cooking or manufacturing.

US researchers tested dozens of foods, including French fries, potato chips, breads, cookies, crackers, cereals and canned and frozen fruits and vegetables. Not only did acrylamide levels vary between different brands of the same food, they also differed among the same products of the same brands. For instance, batches of French fries from six McDonald's restaurants yielded significantly different results, as did more than a dozen bags of Lay's potato chips.

The variability suggests it may be possible to reduce the amount of acrylamide in foods. Researchers need to figure out, however, exactly what causes the differences. Cooking time appears to be a factor. The researchers found that frozen French fries contained little acrylamide before baking. Acrylamide levels rose substantially depending on whether the fries were baked for 15 minutes, 30 minutes or 45 minutes. Scientists also believe a common amino acid called asparagine is involved in acrylamide formation.

Foods that had little or no acrylamide include baby food, infant formula, raw or cooked fish and chicken and frozen vegetables.

FDA officials said the agency's tests were conducted on a small number of samples, and they do not provide enough information to suggest changes to consumer eating habits. The agency is sticking with advice for people to eat a balanced, low-fat diet rich in high-fiber grains, fruits and vegetables.

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