The Food Standards Agency have issued a public warning about acrylamide, which is a chemical compound found in starchy foods that have been cooked at high temperatures. It is thought that roasting and frying starchy foods above 120C could raise the risk of cancer. The public is being encouraged to opt for a golden colour as opposed to dark brown when roasting, baking, grilling, toasting or frying starchy products.
Where is acrylamide found?
Acrylamide is found in various foods including chips, waffles, cereals, biscuits and crisps. Once root vegetables like potatoes, parsnips and sweet potatoes have been roasted until dark brown, they can also carry dangerous levels of the compound. Long cooking times can also heighten acrylamide levels. Crisps and skinny fries have the highest levels. A chemical reaction between asparagine and certain sugar leads to the formation of acrylamide. Microwaving, steaming and boiling are being noted as safer ways to prepare starchy foods. Research has been carried out on mice, showing how high levels of acrylamide can cause neurological damage as well as cancer. It is thought that it can also cause cancer in humans as well as mice, though this has yet to be proven.
A global concern
The FSA is also urging people to avoid keeping potatoes in the fridge and to store them in a dark, cool place instead. They are also being advised that keeping potatoes for a long period of time increases acrylamide levels. The FSA said a number of manufacturers had been working hard to cut down the levels of acrylamide in foods but that consumers now needed to be made aware. It is urging people to reduce their “overall lifetime risk through simple steps”. Manufacturers are not limited as to how much acrylamide can be contained in food. However, the EU has produced guidelines. JEFCA, an international scientific committee has branded acrylamide in food as a “human health concern”, and has suggested that levels should be kept as low as they possibly can. Meanwhile, the FSA are urging consumers to “go for gold”, i.e. a golden yellow colour when preparing starchy foods.