"Browned" food - including coffee, fried potato, biscuits, crackers, bread and certain baby foods - contains a chemical that potentially increases the risk of developing cancer, according to a renewed warning from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
Acrylamide, which has been linked to cancer for over a decade, is found in starchy food that has been fried, baked, roasted or cooked at a temperature over 150°C.
According to EFSA, the authority has “confirmed previous evaluations that, based on animal studies, acrylamide in food potentially increases the risk of developing cancer for consumers in all age groups".
"On a body weight basis, children are the most exposed age groups. European and national authorities already recommend reducing acrylamide in food as much as possible and provide dietary and food preparation advice to consumers and food producers."
Dr Diane Benford of EFSA says: "Acrylamide consumed orally is absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract, distributed to all organs and extensively metabolised. Glycidamide, one of the main metabolites from this process, is the most likely cause of the gene mutations and tumours seen in animal studies."
"So far, human studies on occupational and dietary exposure to acrylamide have provided limited and inconsistent evidence of increased risk of developing cancer."
What is FSANZ doing about acrylamide?
Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), which has been dealing with the issue locally, says: "While there's no direct evidence that acrylamide can cause cancer in humans, there is evidence it can cause cancer in laboratory animals… Therefore, FSANZ believes that it is prudent to reduce our exposure to acrylamide in food."
FSANZ says they are working towards reducing acrylamide in Australian food. "International food regulators are working with industry to reduce acrylamide levels. New farming and processing techniques are being investigated to produce lower levels of acrylamide, for example, lowering cooking temperatures, [and] using enzymes that reduce acrylamide formation."
"We are also encouraging and supporting industry to use enzymes that reduce acrylamide formation and urging industry to adopt an 'acrylamide toolbox' produced by Food and Drink Europe."
How to reduce acrylamide in your diet
- Follow the manufacturer’s cooking instructions – many of them have adjusted their instructions to reduce acrylamide levels in their foods.
- Don’t store potatoes at temperatures below 8ºC because this can increase the components that prompt acrylamide formation.
- Wash or soak vegetables for several minutes before frying – this can reduce the components that prompt acrylamide formation.
- Toast, roast and fry foods to the lightest colour you can.