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Bad News About French Fries Puts Scare in Food Industry
Published on Wednesday, June 26, 2002 in the San Francisco Chronicle
Bad News About French Fries Puts Scare in Food Industry

A new round of tests showing high levels of a suspected carcinogen in french fries and other starchy snack foods is throwing a scare into the food industry.

Fearing panic among consumers and slumping sales as a result, industry officials are conducting their own tests and putting out statements intended to calm fears that acrylamide, a substance that causes cancer in animals, might pose a human health risk in food.

The latest tests, conducted by the Center for Science in the Public Interest and disclosed Tuesday, echo the findings of a Swedish government study in April that showed high levels of acrylamides -- a substance used to make plastics and purify water -- in french fries, potato chips and other starchy food cooked at high temperatures.

The World Health Organization is holding a special meeting of scientists this week at its headquarters in Geneva to discuss the results of research done in Sweden, Norway and Britain, and set priorities for further research. It is expected to make recommendations to food agencies and consumers on Thursday.

Representatives of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are attending the meeting, and FDA officials said they had begun testing for acrylamide in food from "a variety of products and sources."

However, the agency said, it is not cautioning consumers to steer clear of any particular products. Instead, until further recommendations are made by the World Health Organization, the FDA is urging consumers to eat foods from a "wide variety of sources."

The findings of the Swedish government study in April took the industry by surprise.

Since then, food companies have begun doing their own testing. Many have also found the chemical, although they have not found it in levels as high as those pinpointed overseas, said Gene Grabowski of the Grocery Manufacturers of America.

Acrylamide appears to be formed by a chemical reaction during cooking. The highest levels of acrylamide have been found in starchy foods cooked at high temperature, such as french fries and potato chips.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest has already begun using the research to further its nutrition mission. It's urging consumers to cut back on starchy snack foods.

"There has long been reason for Americans to eat less greasy french fries and snack chips," says Michael Jacobson, the center's executive director. "Acrylamide is yet another reason."

©2002 San Francisco Chronicle


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