The FDA Wants Less Acrylamide in Our Food
French fries, potato chips and even your morning toast may contain this probable carcinogen
Years back, you may have read scary headlines about the acrylamide lurking in your burnt toast and your grilled burger. Now the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is taking steps to make sure less of this likely carcinogen makes it into your food.
Acrylamide is a chemical that forms when certain foods — especially foods rich in carbohydrates, like potatoes and bread — are cooked or baked at high temperatures (above 248 degrees F). Think potato chips, French fries, hard pretzels, cookies, dark toast and even some cereals. (Here, from the FDA, is a list of foods and their acrylamide content .) It can also form when meats are grilled or broiled. Acrylamide is even found in some baby foods.
In 2010, the Joint Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization Expert Committee on Food Additives concluded acrylamide is a human health concern . According to the FDA, “acrylamide can cause cancer in laboratory animals at high doses, and is ‘reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.’”
Yesterday the FDA issued guidance to the food industry suggesting possible ways to reduce acrylamide in the food they grow or manufacture. Taking up these recommendations is entirely voluntary.
Some of the suggestions relate to how potatoes are grown and harvested. Choosing potatoes low in “reducing sugars” such as glucose and fructose is one of them, since these sugars react with asparagine, an amino acid, to produce acrylamide. Carefully sorting potatoes and treating them with more TLC during harvest time is another, since potato defects and bruising of potatoes may increase acrylamide in the final food product.
To French fry manufacturers, FDA suggests cutting the fries in shapes that give them a lower surface area to volume ratio, among other tips. To chip makers it suggests cutting thinner potato chip slices and cooking them longer at lower temperatures.
For wheat products, possible solutions include using wheat varieties low in asparagine.
The FDA has not identified a maximum recommended level of acrylamide. But, it says, “We recommend that manufacturers be aware of acrylamide levels in their products, because knowledge of acrylamide levels is essential for determining the effectiveness of acrylamide reduction techniques.”
How to reduce the acrylamide in your diet
Consumers can also take steps to consume less acrylamide. The FDA offers this advice.
- Follow a healthy diet consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. According to the FDA this means eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products; including lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts; and limiting saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt (sodium) and added sugars.
- Limit your intake of French fries, potato chips, cookies and coffee. The FDA doesn’t advise cutting back on whole-grain cereals, which are a good source of whole grains and fiber.
- Learn to like light, not dark, toast.
- Avoid frying your potatoes. Roast, bake or boil them instead. The FDA says soaking potato slices in water for 15 to 30 minutes before frying or roasting helps reduce acrylamide formation during cooking. (Drain and blot them dry before cooking.)
- Store potatoes in a dark, cool place, such as a closet or a pantry, not in the fridge.
- Cook frozen French fries or potato slices until they’re golden yellow, not brown.
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