Image for acrylamide article If warnings about fat, sodium, and empty calories did not stop you from eating your favorite fried and starchy snack foods, how about warnings about acrylamide? Acrylamide made headlines in 2002, when researchers first found high levels of acrylamide, a potentially cancer-causing agent, in a number of common foods. But, what is acrylamide? And should you avoid foods containing it?

Acrylamide is an odorless, colorless chemical agent used to manufacture certain chemicals, plastics and dyes, which may have the potential for causing cancer in humans. A Swedish study published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry was the first to report that frying or baking at high temperatures (greater than 250°F [121ºC]) for prolonged periods of time could create acrylamide in many types of food, particularly starchy foods, such as:

  • French fries
  • Potato chips
  • Crackers
  • Certain types of fried or baked bread
  • Some processed cereals

Researchers in Norway, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Canada, and the United States conducted food analyses and came up with similar findings to the Swedish study. According to a survey by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a large order of fast food French fries had at least 300 times more acrylamide than what the United States Environmental Protection Agency allows in a glass of water. The amount of acrylamide varied according to the type of food and, in some cases, the brand of a particular food. French fries had one of the highest amounts of acrylamide.