Potatoes, Grains on High Fry Can Cause Cancer

STOCKHOLM, Sweden, April 25, 2002 (ENS) - Potato chips, french fries, baked potatoes and bread may contain high levels of a probable human carcinogen known as acrylamide, Swedish researchers said yesterday. No acrylamide has been found in boiled foods.


Margareta Tornqvist (Photo courtesy University of Stockholm)
A research group at the University of Stockholm, headed by environmental chemistry professor Margareta Tornqvist, has found that acrylamide is formed during the heating of starch rich foods to high temperatures.

The discovery that acrylamide is formed during the preparation of food, and at high levels, is new knowledge. It may now be possible to explain some of the cases of cancer caused by food, Dr. Leif Busk, head of the Swedish National Food Administration Research and Development Department, said at a news conference Wednesday.

This new information has led the Swedish National Food Administration to develop a new method for analysis of acrylamide in food. A study of more than 100 random samples of different foodstuffs has been carried out. The results confirm those of the Stockholm University research group, Dr. Busk said.

Many of the analyzed foodstuffs are consumed in large quantities, especially by teens and young adults, such as potato chips, French fries, fried potatoes, biscuits and bread.


Deep fried potatoes (Photo credit unknown)
Other food groups which may contain low as well as high levels of acrylamide are crisp bread, breakfast cereals, fried potato products, biscuits, cookies and snacks such as popcorn, the researchers said.

Foods which are not fried, deep fried or oven baked during production or preparation are not considered to contain any appreciable levels of acrylamide. No levels could be detected in any of the raw foodstuffs or foods cooked by boiling investigated so far - potato, rice, pasta, flour and bacon.

Using information on the levels in different foods and Swedish food consumption data, it seems reasonable to conclude that a significant number, perhaps several hundred, of the annual cancer cases in Sweden can be attributed to acrylamide, said Dr. Busk.

For mostly unknown reasons 45,000 Swedes get cancer every year; most cases occur in older people. It is assumed that a third of all cases of cancer are due to the diet.

"The risks associated with acrylamide in foods are not new - we have probably been exposed to acrylamide in food for generations," he said. "The new, emerging knowledge may make it possible to reduce the risks that we have so far accepted without discussion. This is a very positive development."

The National Food Administration's advice to eat more foods rich in fiber, such as grains, fruit and vegetables, and less fat rich products, such as French fries and chips, remains unchanged. Frying at high temperatures or for a long time should be avoided.

Acrylamide in food is a global problem that requires international action, said Dr. Busk, so the Swedish National Food Administration has informed the European Commission, other food safety agencies and international organizations about the findings.


Acrylamide is formed in breads and other grains baked at high temperatures (Photo credit unknown)
"It is important to obtain much more information through international cooperation in research, in order to be able to reduce the risks associated with acrylamide in foodstuffs," he said.

The National Food Administration has invited the food industry to a meeting to discuss acrylamide levels because the research suggests it may be possible to reduce the levels by changing the methods of food production and preparation.

Commercially produced since 1954, acrylamide is known to produce neurotoxic effects in man and many experimental animals. The 1998 European Community Drinking Water Quality Directive names acrylamide as a genotoxic carcinogen.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says that "lifetime exposure to small amounts of acrylamide in drinking water causes cancer in animals. Repeat exposure to acrylamide may likewise cause cancer in humans."

Until now human exposure to acrylamide has been known to occur only through contact with the manufactured chemical. Acrylamide does not occur in nature, but is produced for use in the production of polymers, dyes, and adhesives, as a flocculant for sewage and waste treatment, for soil conditioning and ore processing.