September 22, 2018

EFSA Says Acrylamide may be a Bigger Cancer Risk than First Thought

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) says that acrylamide, a chemical formed when asparagine, an amino acid, is heated to temperatures above 120°F. High temperature baking and frying are particular culprits in acrylamide development. Acrylamide is often found in such foods as potato chips, crackers, and cookies. The same chemical reaction that produces the appetizing brown color in foods also produces acrylamide.

French FriesPrevious animal studies has found that acrylamide increases the risk of developing cancer in all age groups. The Authority’s expert Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain (CONTAM) has developed a draft scientific opinion on acrylamide in food. Dr. Diane Bedford, Chair of CONTAM said in a statement, “acrylamide consumed orally is absorbed from the gastrointestinal trace, distributed to all organs and extensively metabolized. Glycidamide, one of the main metabolites from this process, is the most likely cause of the gene mutations and tumors seen in animal studies.”

The researchers stated that human studies on dietary exposure have been limited and have provided inconsistent evidence of cancer risk. Acrylamides may also be harmful to the nervous system, pre- and post-natal development, and male reproduction, but those effects are not a concern at this time according to CONTAM, based on current dietary exposure levels.

The last EFSA draft opinion on this chemical was in 2002, which concluded there was insufficient evidence to determine actual risk. But in 2005, a Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives found a human health concern for cancer, and couldn’t rule out potential harmful effects of acrylamide on the nervous system. EFSA published four reports on acrylamide levels in food between 2009 and 2012.

The opinion will be finalized in June 2015. Once it is finalized, decision-makers may consider measures to reduce consumer exposure to the chemical, which may include advice on eating habits and home cooking procedures.

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