May 22, 2008
See also Acrylamide Questions and Answers
Acrylamide is a chemical that can form in some foods during high-temperature cooking, such as frying, roasting, and baking (See What kinds of cooking lead to acrylamide formation? In what foods?). Acrylamide forms from natural sugars and the amino acid asparagine in foods; it does not come from food packaging or the environment.
In laboratory studies, acrylamide caused cancer in animals, but at acrylamide levels much higher than those seen in foods. FDA is now conducting research to determine whether the much lower levels of acrylamide in food pose a health risk to people (See Is there a risk from eating foods that contain acrylamide?).
FDA's best advice for acrylamide and eating is that consumers adopt a healthy eating plan, consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products; includes lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts; and is low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt (sodium) and added sugars. FDA is waiting for new research results before considering whether new advice on acrylamide is needed. However, consumers who want to reduce acrylamide levels in their diet now may find the following information helpful.
Food choice and acrylamide exposure
- Acrylamide has been found primarily in food made from plants, such as potatoes, grain products, and coffee. Acrylamide is not typically associated with meat, dairy, or seafood products.
- Acrylamide is typically found in plant-based foods cooked with high heat (e.g., frying, roasting, and baking), not raw plant-based foods or foods cooked by steaming or boiling.
- Some foods are larger sources of acrylamide in the diet, including certain potato products (especially French fries and potato chips), coffee, and foods made of grains (such as breakfast cereal, cookies, and toast). These foods are all part of a regular diet. However, if you want to lower acrylamide intake, reducing consumption of these foods is one way to do so, keeping in mind that it's best to limit intake of foods that are high in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt (sodium), and added sugars. FDA does not recommend reducing intake of healthful grain products (e.g., whole grain cereals) that are a good source of whole grains and fiber.
Picture A - French Fries
Picture B - Toast
Food storage and preparation methods
- Comparing frying, roasting, and baking potatoes, frying causes the highest acrylamide formation. Roasting potato pieces causes less acrylamide formation, followed by baking whole potatoes. Boiling potatoes and microwaving whole potatoes with skin on to make “microwaved baked potatoes” does not produce acrylamide.1
- Soaking raw potato slices in water for 15-30 minutes before frying or roasting helps reduce acrylamide formation during cooking. (Soaked potatoes should be drained and blotted dry before cooking to prevent splattering or fires.)
- Storing potatoes in the refrigerator can result in increased acrylamide during cooking. Therefore, store potatoes outside the refrigerator, preferably in a dark, cool place, such as a closet or a pantry, to prevent sprouting.
- Generally, more acrylamide accumulates when cooking is done for longer periods or at higher temperatures. Cooking cut potato products, such as frozen French fries or potato slices, to a golden yellow color rather than a brown color helps reduce acrylamide formation (see Picture A). Brown areas tend to contain more acrylamide.
- Toasting bread to a light brown color, rather than a dark brown color, lowers the amount of acrylamide (see Picture B). Very brown areas should be avoided, since they contain the most acrylamide.
- Acrylamide forms in coffee when coffee beans are roasted, not when coffee is brewed at home or in a restaurant. So far, scientists have not found good ways to reduce acrylamide formation in coffee.
1Based on FDA studies.