by Marion Nestle
Sep 2 2009

Acrylamide, sigh

I don’t know what to say about acrylamide.  Acrylamide is the powerful carcinogen that gets formed when carbohydrates and proteins are cooked together at high temperature, as in dark toast, French fries, and potato chips.    I just can’t figure out how bad it is, and I like my toast well toasted.  But:

Canada recently added acrylamide to its list of toxic substances.  The European Union has just listed it as a hazardous chemical “of high concern.”

The FDA, trying to figure out what to say about acrylamide, is asking for public comment:

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is requesting comments and scientific data and information on acrylamide in food. Acrylamide is a chemical that can form in some foods during certain types of high temperature cooking. FDA is seeking information on practices that manufacturers have used to reduce acrylamide in food and the reductions they have been able to achieve in acrylamide levels. FDA is considering issuing guidance for industry on reduction of acrylamide levels in food products.

The FDA offers an information page on acrylamide.  This comes with a Q and A and information about avoiding acrylamide when eating or cooking.

How serious a problem is acrylamide?  Nobody knows, really, and the research is mixed. According to recent reports, Dutch investigators say that acrylamide has no relationship to brain or lung cancer.  So that’s some relief.

Update, September 3: No surprise, but surveys show the public doesn’t know much about acrylamide.  With so much uncertainty, this is a particularly tough one to deal with.

Update, September 5: Food Production Daily has produced a nifty interactive timeline of events in the history of troubles with acrylamide, since it was first suspected of being a problem in 2002.