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Cancer cooking wp { April 25 2002 }

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Link Seen Between Cooking, Cancer
Frying, Baking Starches Creates A Carcinogen

By Marc Kaufman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 25, 2002; Page A13

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, the Swedish government said yesterday.

The 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.

"We found the substance at levels that, if it was just one product, we would ask that it be immediately taken off the market," said Leif Busk, head of the Research and Development Department of the Swedish National Food Administration. "But it is in foods that we cannot live without, so there is no question of prohibiting it."

Busk said that the chemical, acrylamide, which is used industrially in the manufacture of some plastics, is also apparently formed by the heating of starches. He said that there is no reason to think that acrylamide levels are higher in Swedish foods than in similar European or American products. Foods with especially high levels of the chemical included french fries, potato chips and crackers.

A Food and Drug Administration official said yesterday that the agency had not reviewed the report but that it considered the source to be "credible."

"We will move as expeditiously as possible to evaluate all data relevant to this issue to protect the public health," the official said.

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."

Speaking by telephone from Stockholm, Busk said his agency had asked Swedish food producers to study the phenomenon and try to find ways to cook their products without producing such high levels of acrylamide. But he also said that there was no reason to believe the presence of the chemical is new or produced by any particular frying or baking process.

"We have been eating these for generations," he said. "Finding this substance is a very positive development, because now we may be able to take new steps to reduce the risk of cancer."

Busk said the high acrylamide levels were initially discovered during a University of Stockholm study at a factory that used them industrially.

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 by the cooking process.

2002 The Washington Post Company

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