We've heard over the past several years of the possible dangers of acrylamide, the chemical compound and known carcinogen naturally produced from cooking food. Since its discovery in 2002, acrylamide has prompted questions from governments, health organizations and the public about what kind of a risk it poses.
Before being discovered in food, acrylamide became known as a carcinogen when laboratory tests on rodents in the 1980s and `90s demonstrated increased cancer risks. However, the rodents were given doses thousands of times greater than what comes in a normal human diet.
James Andrews of Food Safety News reported back on Jan. 27 ("Panel: Acrylamide in Food Unlikely to Pose Health Risk") that an expert panel organized by the International Food Information Council stated that, based on years of findings, dietary levels of acrylamide cannot be shown to pose any health risk to humans.
James Coughlin, Ph.D. and two co-authors published a review of dietary acrylamide studies in February.
Coughlin said that about 40 human epidemiology studies have looked at acrylamide levels in food over the last decade. None of them have conclusively associated increased health risks with the compound. Further testing is still needed though, given the level of worldwide attention to acrylamide.
However, even if consumers still demand the elimination of acrylamide, some experts, including the European Confederation of the Food and Drink Industries, have called the idea of acrylamide elimination "virtually impossible."
Another of the co-authors, Julie Jones, Ph.D., food science and nutrition professor emeritus at the University of Minnesota, says that, "The average intake [of acrylamide] is so far lower than any level associated with an adverse outcome that, really, focusing on what we ought to eat rather than some micro-constituent that might be a problem is what we need to do for optimal nutrition."
So are we straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel? If it does pose a risk, this affects the potato industry the most, since the greatest concentrations of acrylamide are found in fried potatoes. If that's the case, the industry will need to take appropriate steps.
If it doesn't pose any more of a risk than driving a car, the public needs to be educated-much like the United States Potato Board did in the wake of the Atkins Diet craze-that potatoes are good for you and that there are much bigger things to worry about than acrylamide.