Should I Be Concerned About Acrylamide in My Food?

Acrylamide forms naturally during high-temperature cooking of such things as french-fried potatoes. Businesses in Europe will have to take steps to cut down on acrylamide in food when new rules take effect this spring. In the U.S., a different approach is being taken on the issue. The Food and Drug Administration issued voluntary guidelines in 2016 to help food companies and consumers cut down on acrylamide levels.

What’s this issue all about? We went to Dr. Carl Winter of the University of California at Davis for some answers.

What is the health risk associated with acrylamide?

Dr. Winter: Exposure to high levels of acrylamide in animal toxicology studies has resulted in cancer. Typical human dietary exposure to acrylamide is at dramatically lower levels, but due to uncertainty in predicting health risks and in an effort to be protective, consumers have been advised to reduce their dietary exposure to acrylamide when it is convenient to do so.

French fries are mentioned prominently when this issue comes up … are there other foods to keep in mind?

Dr. Winter: Foods like potatoes that contain sugars (carbohydrates) and the amino acid asparagine that are heated, often from frying, have the greatest potential to produce acrylamide. In addition to potato-containing foods, much of our dietary exposure to acrylamide comes from cereal-based foods such as breads, bagels, and breakfast cereals, as well as from coffee and coffee products.

What’s the best way to reduce acrylamide in food?

Dr. Winter: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) provided guidance to food producers, manufacturers, and processors on ways that acrylamide can be reduced in foods. This document can be obtained here . The guidance discusses many approaches including varietal choices, post-harvest treatments, and cooking practices.

Is this a new concern? Has something happened to prompt the current attention on this issue?

Dr. Winter: Although acrylamide has probably been in our foods since humans began using heat for food preparation, its presence in food was not discovered until 2002. Current concern regarding acrylamide in food has resulted from an increased awareness of its presence in food and from current research identifying how it is formed in food and how its formation can be reduced.

What are your thoughts on the differing approaches to cut down on acrylamide – voluntary guidance as opposed to regulation?

Dr. Winter: Since regulators have yet to determine what levels (if any) of acrylamide exceed “acceptable risk” levels, I believe that voluntary guidance to reduce acrylamide levels is the most prudent option at this time.

What’s your advice to people who are concerned about acrylamide in their food?

Dr. Winter: Consumers should eat a balanced diet including ample quantities of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Consuming foods containing acrylamide is perfectly acceptable provided that one’s diet offers considerable variety.

Acrylamide naturally occurs when foods with a concentration of carbohydrates are good at a high temperature, such as frying or baking. Consumers are encouraged to monitor their intake of acrylamide. Most people’s diets are within the level considered safe.