Exploring the Facts and Myths of Acrylamide

By: Tony Flood   Date 2/12/10

Did you know that acrylamide has been around since we began cooking food?  It is a naturally occurring chemical compound that results from a reaction of sugars with specific amino acids during the cooking and frying process.  Have you ever toasted a piece of bread and noticed the browning effect?  That effect is known as the maillard reaction.  Simply put, during this reaction, acrylamide as well as number of other compounds, are formed.

History of Acrylamide

Acrylamide was first discovered in April 2002 when a group of Swedish researchers from Stockholm University, presented data where trace levels of the compound were found in some baked and fried foods.  Prior to 2002, food was not analyzed because acrylamide was not added to food therefore it was not known to even occur in food. Acrylamide can be found in a number of different foods including breakfast cereals, breads, chips, fries and even coffee. 

This year acrylamide is expected to draw increased attention by regulatory bodies around the world, so this week we held a web cast with some top experts to discuss the science and what it means to you.

What the Experts are Saying

Acrylamide has been an interesting scientific issue since it was first discovered in 2002.  Laboratory research shows that acrylamide is a carcinogen and that extreme doses can unfortunately lead to damaging health effects in animals., but that doesn't mean there's cause for concern.  As Dr. Carl Winter, Director of the Food Safe Program and Extension Toxicologist at the University of California at Davis put it during the web cast, "it's the dose that makes the poison and that anything can be toxic at a high enough dose".  Additionally, Carl, Dr. Julie Jones from St. Catherine University  and Dr. David Lineback, Past Director, JIFSAN, agreed that the current levels of exposure are well below any levels of concern.  They concur with leading regulatory agencies such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and don't recommend making any dietary changes in regards to acrylamide.  The FDA does however recommend eating a balanced diet, rich in variety - fruits, vegetables and whole grains. 

Still, the food industry, health and governing bodies across the globe are implementing strategies to reduce acrylamide levels at multiple points along the food chain.

Tips for Reducing Acrylamide Exposure

You too can take practical steps to reduce acrylamide levels at home.  Acrylamide forms naturally during the cooking process even when cooking at home.  Here are a few things you can do to reduce your exposure to acrylamide when cooking at home:

- Store potatoes properly - not in the refrigerator;
- Fry cut potato products to a light golden brown color;
- Boil or microwave whole potatoes with the skin - locks in nutrition and decreases acrylamide;
- Toast bread to a light golden color.

In our web cast Dr. Julie Jones stressed that, "eliminating one of these foods from your diet would not completely eliminate acrylamide.  Eating a balanced diet is a key way to limit exposure to acrylamide."

So join me, this weekend and everyday in taking steps to reduce our acrylamide exposure.  Don't change your eating habits - just slightly change the way you cook and introduce more of a variety in your diet.

Still have questions about acrylamide levels?  Drop us a line and we can help.