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
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
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
"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