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Evaluating the Science of Acrylamide

A Summary

April 19, 2010

It’s the Dose that Makes the Poison

Dr. Carl Winter is the director of the Food Safe Program at the University of California at Davis. He is also an extension toxicologist and helps provide science-based information about chemical compounds found in food, risk assessment, regulation and public policy. Dr. Winter is an active member of the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) and other renowned scientific organizations. He is also an avid musician, internationally known for his music parodies that help educate consumers about food safety. He has kindly taken the time to share his insights into the science of acrylamide and scientific evaluation regarding consumer risk.

Dr. Winter notes, “The understanding of dietary acrylamide dates back only until 2002 when acrylamide was discovered to exist in foods. Since that time, it has been learned that acrylamide forms in foods during the Maillard reaction between the amino acid asparagine and sugars when heated. It is present in many foods that are prepared by baking, roasting or toasting, such a French fries, coffee and bread.”

“Average human exposure to acrylamide is considerably lower than the level that may cause negative health implications, despite the presence of acrylamide in so many food products. The amount of acrylamide needed for an increased risk of cancer is nearly 600 times higher than average human exposure, and the required for a neurotoxic effect is nearly 1000 times higher.  When it comes to acrylamide, it is the amount of the chemical, rather than its mere presence, that determines any cause for concern.”

Toxicological studies are designed to identify any potential health effects and often require enormous doses in order to show such effects. Such is the case with acrylamide—its association with negative health effects is due largely to animal studies where the subjects ingested unrealistic doses far above what the average person would encounter. Many epidemiological studies involving humans have yielded negative results too; however, these studies indicate a correlation rather than cause and effect determination, they may be suggestive of a level of concern. Epidemiological studies also do not take into account other variables.

Dr. Winter states that, “Eating may be dangerous, but not eating has proven to be fatal.” The science around acrylamide does not suggest that consumers should make changes to their eating or food preparation habits due to acrylamide. It is present in numerous food and beverage products, so cutting one food product out of the diet on account of acrylamide content will not rid the diet of acrylamide. It is more important to focus on eating a balanced and varied diet.

For more insights and information from experts on "Exploring the Facts and Myths about Acrylamide, please click here .

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