Food Experts Link Fried Potatoes With Cancer

GENEVA, Switzerland, March 7, 2005 (ENS) - The chemical acrylamide formed unintentionally when starchy foods such as potato chips are cooked may be of public heath concern since it has been shown to cause cancer in animals, an international expert panel said Friday.

A summary report released by a Joint Expert Committee of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) - a committee of 35 experts from 15 countries - called for continued efforts to reduce acrylamide in food.

The committee met from February 8 - 17 to consider the possible health risks associated with acrylamide and five other food contaminants. The committee concluded that, on the basis of the tests in animals, cancer was the most important toxic effect of acrylamide and that consumption of foods with this contaminant at current levels of occurrence may be a public health concern.


Potatoes fried at high temperatures form acrylamide, a carcinogen. (Photo courtesy FreeFoto)
The conclusion was based on a conservative evaluation, according to the committee, which noted that there is still considerable uncertainty about the mechanism of the toxicity of acrylamide, assumptions used to compare the most relevant animal data to the human situation, and extrapolation of the intake assessments.

The neurotoxicity of acrylamide in humans is known from instances of high occupational and accidental exposure when acrylamide is used in industrial processes in the production of plastics and materials. Studies in animals have also shown that acrylamide causes reproductive problems and cancer.

In 2002, Swedish studies showed for the first time the formation of relatively high levels of acrylamide during the frying or baking of potatoes and cereal products at temperatures higher than 120 degrees Celsius or 248 degrees Fahrenheit.

Acrylamide is formed when plant-based foods that are rich in carbohydrates and low in protein, are cooked at high temperatures such as in frying, roasting or baking.

The major foods contributing to acrylamide exposure in countries for which data were available are potato chips and crisps, coffee, cereal-based products such as pastries and sweet biscuits, breads, rolls and toast.

The amount of acrylamide can vary dramatically in the same foods depending on several factors, including cooking temperature and time. Because of this, experts on the committee said that it was not possible to issue recommendations on how much of any specific food containing the substance is safe to eat.

Preliminary investigations by industry and other researchers seem to suggest that significant reductions are currently feasible in several foods, the committee said.

The knowledge gained should help in developing guidance for home-prepared foods. The latest information available on acrylamide reinforces general advice on healthy eating, the committee said. Consumers should continue to eat balanced and varied diets, which include plenty of fruit and vegetables, and to moderate their consumption of fried and fatty foods.