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Carcinogen Found in French Fries, Bread, Biscuits
Wed Apr 24, 7:20 PM ET
STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Basic foods eaten by millions around the world such as bread, biscuits, crisps and French fries contain high quantities of acrylamide, a substance believed to increase cancer risk, Swedish scientists said on Wednesday.
The research carried out at Stockholm University in cooperation with Sweden's National Food Administration, a government food safety agency, showed that baking or frying carbohydrate-rich foods such as potatoes or cereals formed acrylamide, a much studied substance classified as a probable human carcinogen.
The research was deemed important enough for the scientists to go public with their findings before the research had been officially published in an academic journal.
"I have been in this field for 30 years and I have never seen anything like this before," said Leif Busk, head of the food administration's research department.
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 Organisation (WHO).
WHO recommends one microgram (one-millionth of a gram) per litre as a maximum permitted for drinking water.
Liliane Abramsson-Zetterberg, a toxicologist at the Swedish food administration, said: "The cancer risk from acrylamide is much higher than (the levels) we accept for known carcinogens."
But smoking, which is known to cause cancer, remained a bigger risk, she said.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (news - web sites) classifies acrylamide, a colourless, crystalline solid, as a medium-hazard probable human carcinogen.
According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, acrylamide induces gene mutations and has been found in animal tests to cause benign and malignant stomach tumours.
It is also known to cause damage to the central and peripheral nervous system.
"The discovery that acrylamide is formed during the preparation of food, and at high levels, is new knowledge. It may now be possible to explain some of the cases of cancer caused by food," Busk said.
"Fried, oven-baked and deep-fried potato and cereal products may contain high levels of acrylamide," the administration said.
"Acrylamide is formed during the preparation of food and occurs in many foodstuffs.... Many of the analysed foodstuffs are consumed in large quantities, e.g. potato crisps, French fries, fried potatoes, biscuits and bread."
Margareta Tornqvist, an associate professor at Stockholm University's department of environmental chemistry, said the consumption of a single potato crisp could take acrylamide intake up to the WHO maximum for drinking water.
Busk said, however, that the product analysis based on more than 100 random samples was not extensive enough for the administration to recommend the withdrawal of any products from supermarket shelves.
"Frying at high temperatures or for a long time should be avoided," Busk said, adding: "Our advice to eat less fat-rich products such as French fries and crisps, remains valid."
He said the findings applied worldwide, not only to Sweden, as the food raw materials used in the analyses had showed no traces of acrylamide.
Swedish authorities had informed the European Commission (news - web sites) and EU member countries, Busk said.
"It is the first time we have come across such a result. We will evaluate this study and look at it but it is important to say that Sweden has not withdrawn any products from the market," said European Commission spokeswoman Beate Gminder.
"Therefore, we'll have to see what the scientific evaluation by our side and by scientists in the member states will bring about," she said.
In an interview with Reuters Health, Dr. Michael Thun, head of epidemiologic research for the American Cancer Society (news - web sites) said, "Sweden is quite aggressive with removing or reducing exposures that the government considers hazardous to consumers and workers. The fact that they did not act suggests that they still have some questions about it."