Link Seen Between Cooking and Cancer
April 25, 2002; Page A13, By Mark Kaufman
The process of frying and baking starchy foods such as potatoes and bread causes the formation of potentially harmful amounts of a chemical listed as a probable carcinogen.
Swedish officials said they were so surprised by the information that they decided to make it public immediately, rather than wait for publication in a scientific journal.
The chemical, acrylamide, which is used industrially in the manufacture of some plastics, is also apparently formed by the heating of starches. Foods with especially high levels of the chemical included french fries, potato chips and crackers.
The governmental agency, following up on research by a group of scientists at Stockholm University, studied more than 100 foods bought in Swedish stores and restaurants and determined that "fried, oven-baked and deep-fried potato and cereal products may contain high levels of acrylamide."
The high acrylamide levels were initially discovered during a University of Stockholm study at a factory that used them industrially.
A Food and Drug Administration official said that the agency had not reviewed the report but that it considered the source to be "credible."
The Swedish report said that high doses of acrylamide have been shown to cause cancers and that "it seems reasonable to conclude that a significant number, perhaps several hundred, of the annual cancer cases in Sweden can be attributed to acrylamide."
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency describes acrylamide as white, odorless, flake-like crystals that are used mainly in treating drinking water and for industrial purposes and can cause cancer in people exposed to high levels for a long period.
Findings unveiled at a news conference called by the food administration showed that an ordinary bag of potato crisps may contain up to 500 times more of the substance than the top level allowed in drinking water by the World Health Organization (WHO).
WHO recommends one microgram (one-millionth of a gram) per litre as a maximum permitted for drinking water.
Researchers were surprised by the high levels found in both the workers and the people used for a control study. The Swedish government began testing acrylamide levels late last year and found that they were elevated in many starch-rich foods that had been baked or fried. They were not found, however, in raw or boiled foods, leading researchers to conclude they were formed.