The US Food and Drug Administration released draft guidance in
late 2013 with recommendations to growers, manufacturers and food
service operators to reduce acrylamide in certain foods. Acrylamide
is a chemical that forms in plant-based foods – including
potatoes, coffee, cereals, breads, crackers and dried fruits
– during high-temperature cooking processes like frying,
roasting and baking.
Scientists only discovered acrylamide in foods in 2002, so
research on the chemical is relatively new. The FDA states that
'acrylamide forms in foods from a chemical reaction between
asparagine, an amino acid, and reducing sugars such as glucose and
fructose. This reaction is part of the Maillard reaction, which
leads to color, flavor, and aroma changes in cooked foods.'
According to the Grocery Manufacturers Association, acrylamide is
found in 40 per cent of the calories consumed in the average
In 2010, the joint FAO/World Health Organization expert
committee on food additives concluded that acrylamide may be a
human health concern. High doses of acrylamide were found to cause
cancer in animals and some scientists believe that it may be a
carcinogen for humans as well. Some critics have come out in
defence of the Maillard reaction and brown foods. Dr John LaPuma,
the head of Chef Clinic in California, told the Wall Street Journal
that 'the amount of acrylamide you need to cause cancer in
people is astronomical'.
In 2005, the California attorney general sued several companies
– McDonald's, Wendy's, Frito-Lay, Procter &
Gamble and Heinz among them – for selling potato chips and
French fries containing high levels of acrylamide. Those lawsuits
settled in 2008, while the FDA was still studying the chemical. The
industry saw an uptick in acrylamide-related lawsuits in response
but there still appear to be scientific gaps in a potential
plaintiff's case. Accordingly, it is unclear what consequences
these recommendations will have for companies that manufacture and
serve acrylamide containing foods.
In addition to guidelines for food producers, the FDA has
included suggestions for consumers on how to reduce the amount of
acrylamide they consume. The agency has not called for a ban nor
has it said that people should eliminate the chemical from their
diets, but it does say that there could be benefits to cutting back
and it includes suggestions ranging from toasting bread to a light
brown (not dark) to not storing potatoes in the fridge.
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