February 2009

Acrylamide - What you can do to reduce exposure

Acrylamide is a chemical that naturally forms in certain foods, particularly plant-based foods that are rich in carbohydrates and low in protein, during processing or cooking at high temperatures at high temperatures (e.g. frying or baking). Acrylamide is known to cause cancer in experimental animals.

The highest levels of acrylamide found in foods available in Canada have been in french fries and potato chips; as potatoes contain both asparagine and naturally occurring sugars and these products are traditionally cooked at high temperatures. Acrylamide has not been found in boiled potatoes because the temperature during boiling is not high enough to cause it to be formed.

Acrylamide has also been found in breakfast cereals, pastries, cookies, breads, rolls, toast, cocoa products and coffee, but at levels lower than those found in potato chips and french fries.

The Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) has determined that the estimated intake of acrylamide from certain foods may be a human health concern. Health Canada scientists concur with this assessment and have recommended that dietary exposure to acrylamide be minimized.

There are some simple measures that you can take to reduce your exposure to acrylamide from food sources. 

Health Canada's advice is to limit foods that are high in fat (such as potato chips and french fries), sugar or salt, and follow a healthy eating pattern including a variety of foods from the four food groups, as laid out in Eating Well with Canada's Food Guide.  However, occasional consumption of these products is not likely to be a health concern.

You can also lower exposure to acrylamide from certain foods prepared in the home by following these suggestions:

  • For homemade french fries, pay careful attention to the oil temperature (remember, acrylamide is related to high temperature cooking).
  • Some food processors, in Canada and internationally, have already adjusted their cooking instructions based on recent scientific findings, to ensure that acrylamide levels are reduced in their food products, prepared at home or in a restaurant. Always follow the manufacturer's cooking instructions regarding quantity, cooking time and temperature.
  • Recent scientific findings suggest cooking french fries to a light golden color and using maximum temperatures of 175°C (350°F) when deep-frying and 230°C (450°F) when baking.
  • Do not store potatoes below 8°C (low temperature storage can increase the components that contribute to acrylamide formation).
  • Wash or soak fresh cut potatoes in water for several minutes before frying (this can reduce the components that contribute to acrylamide formation).
  • When toasting bread or baked goods:
    • Toast to the lightest colour acceptable.
    • The crust of toast or bread will have higher levels of acrylamide than the remainder, even though these levels are lower than those in french fries and potato chips. You may wish to remove the crust if it is dark or burned.

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