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Acrylamide cancer risk highlighted by EFSA infographic

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By Nicholas Robinson+

05-Sep-2014
Last updated on 05-Sep-2014 at 11:51 GMT

Fried potato products are a source of acrylamide
Fried potato products are a source of acrylamide

Worries about acrylamide posing a bigger cancer risk than previously thought have led the food watchdog the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to issue cooking advice to consumers.

This week, EFSA published an infographic warning of the potential health effects of acrylamide and how to cut down on consuming it. The infographic can be found here .

“Laboratory tests show that acrylamide in the diet causes cancer in animals,” said the infographic.

“Scientists conclude that acrylamide in food potentially increases the cancer risk for consumers of all ages.”

Bread, biscuits and cake

Acrylamide is found mostly in coffee, crisps and other fried potato products, as well as bread, biscuits and cakes, according to EFSA.

Previous animal-based studies on the health effects of acrylamide in the diet were confirmed by EFSA in a draft opinion in July.

Studies on the effects of acrylamide in humans have, however, provided limited and inconsistent results, said EFSA.

EFSA’s Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain (CONTAM) launched a public consultation on the draft opinion, which will close on September 15.

Dr Diane Benford, chair of CONTAM, said acrylamide was absorbed into the body by the gastrointestinal tract, distributed to all organs and extensively metabolised leaving behind glycidamide.

“Glycidamide is the most likely cause of gene mutations and tumours seen in animal studies,” she said.

Scare story

A scare story published in the Daily Express two years ago quoted research from Reading University that claimed to find acrylamide in chips that had been dried, frozen and cooked twice before reaching the table.

Afterwards the Food Standards Agency (FSA) re-assured consumers about the safety of acrylamide in frozen chips.

“Acrylamide is formed naturally during manufacturing or home-cooking, when foods containing natural amino acids and sugars are heated at temperatures greater than 120°C,” said the FSA.

“The FSA does not advise people to stop eating any of these foods, but follow government advice on eating a healthy, balanced diet.”

Scientists writing in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives in 2012 linked acrylamide-rich foods to a higher risk of low birth weight in children.

Babies whose mothers had a high dietary intake of acrylamide were revealed to be up to 132g lighter than babies from mothers who had a low intake, researchers claimed.

Previous evaluations of the risk posed by acrylamide, such as one published by the European Commission’s former Scientific Committee on Food 2002, concluded that there was insufficient evidence available at the time to determine an actual risk to consumers.

However, an EFSA CONTAM panel endorsed a risk assessment carried out by the World Health Organisation and the Food and Agricultural Organisation in 2005, which indicated a human health concern.

The panel said it “could not rule out the potential harmful effects of dietary” exposure to acrylamide.

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