Acrylamide was discovered in food approximately 10 years ago by a group of Swedish researchers who at the time did not know that acrylamide existed in food. At the time it was discovered in food in April 2002, little if anything was known about acrylamide in foods. It was, however, well known that acrylamide had been used for years in industrial settings – it is used in products such as plastics, grout, water treatment and some cosmetics. In most cases of extreme exposure, acrylamide is carcinogenic and has been known to cause cancer in high-dose experimental lab tests and rodent studies.
Acrylamide forms naturally in food during the heating and cooking process —either in home cooking or in food manufacturing. Acrylamide has probably always been present in cooked foods. It forms as a reaction of amino acids and sugar during the browning process of cooking many foods. This browning process is known as the Maillard reaction and simply put, it is the everyday process of toasting bread or roasting or frying potatoes.
The past ten years have proven fruitful in identifying ways to reduce the formation of acrylamide in food preparation. Many of the strategies under consideration are being evaluated for acrylamide reduction as well as to ensure the quality and safety of the product. There are ways to reduce naturally occurring acrylamide in home cooked meals, including techniques such as:
Frying at lower temperatures;
Turning food during grilling;
Paying more attention to time and duration of cooking;
Boiling and microwaving potatoes, which does not produce acrylamide
These are simple, practical steps consumers can take should they wish to reduce exposure through the diet. Since acrylamide forms naturally in a number of foods, eliminating one food would not completely eliminate acrylamide from the diet. We will never achieve complete elimination of acrylamide from food. A diet rich in a variety of foods consumed in moderation will not only reduce your exposure, but it will also maximize your healthfulness.
The Bottom Line: Since we learned about acrylamide forming naturally in food we have also come to learn that the low levels present in food are far below the daily human exposure required for any adverse health effects. In fact, acrylamide is formed at low levels in coffee, cereals, whole grain bread and bakery products, roasted or fried potatoes, nuts and some fruits and vegetables – a host of food and some beverages we’ve been safely consuming since we put food to fire and began cooking food. No one single food contributes a majority of acrylamide to the average diet.
For more information about acrylamide, visit the IFIC Foundation “Acrylamide Resource Page”.