Acrylamide in Food and Risk of Cancer Featured / Food Safety / Nutrition

What is acrylamide?

Acrylamide is a chemical used primarily to make substances called polyacrylamide and acrylamide copolymers.  Polyacrylamide and acrylamide copolymers are used in many industrial processes, such as in the production of plastics and paper and found in consumer products such as food packaging.

Acrylamide is also naturally present in some foods and at higher levels in cigarette smoke.  It can also be produced when certain foods containing the amino acid asparagine are heated to high temperatures during cooking (e.g., grilling or frying) in the presence of sugars.

What are the major sources of acrylamide?

The major food sources of acrylamide include French fries, potato chips, baked goods, canned black olives and coffee.  Levels vary depending on the manufacturer, cooking time and temperature.

Does acrylamide cause cancer?

Rodent studies have found that acrylamide exposure increases the risk for cancer, but at levels much higher than those seen in food.  In the body acrylamide is converted to a compound called glycidamide, which causes DNA damage. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified acrylamide as a probable human carcinogen based on studies where subjects were exposed to 1,000 to 10,000 times higher dose than what is actually found in food.  It is very likely that acrylamide in food is too low to influence the development of cancer.

How can I decrease the amount of acrylamide in food?

  1. Roasting and baking potatoes minimizes acrylamide formation. Acrylamide is not formed when potatoes are microwaved or boiled.
  2. Soaking raw potato slices in water for 15-30 minutes minimizes acrylamide formation during cooking.
  3. Storing potatoes in the refrigerator increases the amount of acrylamide formed during cooking.
  4. Greater amounts of acrylamide form when foods are cooked for longer periods of time. For example, toasting bread to a light brown color, rather than darker brown color, lowers the amount of acrylamide.
  5. Acrylamide is formed when coffee beans are roasted; scientists have not found ways to reduce acrylamide in coffee.

For additional information visit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s website (click here).


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