Hot french fries can cause cancer

"Gilding instead of charring": Health risk acrylamide

From Jonas Kühn

A loud hissing, hot steam rises. The smell of fryer fat is in the air. In a simmering hot bath in frit fat, cold potato strips turn into golden-yellow, crispy French fries in just a few moments. For a large part of the population a real pleasure, for some others a dangerous game with their own health. Because fried foods such as french fries, potato chips and chicken wings are suspected of causing cancer. At the heart of the debate is a specific toxin called "acrylamide". New rules have been in force in the EU for the pollutant since April 11, 2018.

Acrylamide is formed wherever sugar or starch meets the amino acid asparagine under the influence of heat - mainly in foods with a low water content. Acrylamide is by no means a pollutant of modern times, but has been with people since they have been baking or frying their food. Today, deep-frying, grilling and roasting are also part of it. Acrylamide can be formed at temperatures from 120 degrees Celsius, from 170 degrees there are almost perfect conditions for the formation of the pollutant.

Suspected of mutagenic and carcinogenic effects

Acrylamide can be absorbed into the body through food, skin and breathing. It can irritate eyes and skin and make it more sensitive to other substances. Tests on laboratory animals also provide evidence that the substance can damage the genetic makeup and cause cancer. The exact relationships and mechanisms are not yet known to the researchers, but it is suspected that acrylamide can directly attack the genetic material of the human body. It is processed into glycidamide by the liver. This degradation product is classified by the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) as mutagenic and carcinogenic because it attaches to the gene substance and can manipulate it. Glycidamide can also be formed when deep-frying starchy foods, especially when using sunflower oil.

New EU regulation sets strict limits

Due to the toxic and carcinogenic effects of acrylamide and its breakdown product glycidamide, the EU Commission was forced to adopt a regulation. This defines strict upper limits for the maximum acrylamide content in food. Since April 11, 2018, food manufacturers have been obliged to keep the acrylamide dose in their products below the permitted guide values. The EU includes hot-fried products such as French fries and potato chips, bread, breakfast cereals, fine baked goods such as cookies and gingerbread, roasted coffee and instant coffee, as well as processed cereal foods and other complementary foods for infants and young children. The comprehensive catalog of measures includes, among other things, regulations for the storage and recycling of potatoes, for heating pasta and roasted coffee and recommendations for end consumers on product packaging and websites as well as in product videos.

Consumer Tips: How to Avoid Acrylamide Formation at Home

To ensure that consumers are spared the toxin in the home kitchen or at a convivial barbecue evening, a few basic rules must be observed when baking, roasting and grilling. The golden rule is "gilding, not charring":

  1. Do not sear potato and cereal products: stay in the medium temperature range and use heat-stable oil or fat.
  2. Prepare fried potatoes from boiled potatoes, as they need to be fried for a shorter time.
  3. When baking: With convection up to a maximum of 180 degrees Celsius, without convection up to a maximum of 200 degrees Celsius.
  4. Use baking paper: Place a layer of baking paper between the baking sheet and the food to prevent it from browning too much from below.
  5. Prefer thick fries: Acrylamide is formed especially in the outer layers. Therefore, a serving of thick french fries contains less of the pollutant.
  6. Bake cookies with top and bottom heat at a maximum of 190 degrees Celsuis, with convection no hotter than 170 degrees Celsius.
  7. Whenever possible, use egg or egg yolk as it reduces the build-up of acrylamide.
  8. Whether you are baking, roasting or grilling: only heat foods that contain carbohydrates until they turn a golden yellow color. As a rule, the stronger the tan, the higher the acrylamide content.
  9. Avoid eating foods that are too browned, burnt, or charred. These can contain high amounts of harmful acrylamide and in most cases no longer taste good.
  10. Do not use food that has been stored too long or that has been stored too cool: especially with vegetables such as potatoes, long storage times and storage temperatures that are too low promote the breakdown of starch and the release of glucose and fructose. The two types of sugar are considered to be the main suspects for the formation of acrylamide when heated.
  11. The intake of acrylamide can be reduced five to six times if foods from particularly contaminated product groups (see above) are consumed only once a week.