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WASHINGTON - Officials from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration were scheduled to meet with consumer groups and food manufacturers on Monday to discuss the risk of acrylamide, a possible carcinogen found in many fried or baked starchy foods. The USDA has made studying acrylamide's risk and determining how to lower its levels in food one of its highest research priorities, The Associated Press reports.
New research from the Canadian government suggests that asparagine, a naturally occurring amino acid, when heated with certain sugars such as glucose, leads to the formation of acrylamide. The government has ordered food manufacturers to look for ways to alter it and thus lower levels of acrylamide in food. Cincinnati-based manufacturer Procter & Gamble Co. says its scientists, too, have found the asparagine connection. In addition, Procter & Gamble said Friday that its testing found acrylamide in such previously unimplicated foods as roasted asparagus and banana chips.
Swedish scientists announced in the spring that high levels of the possible carcinogen are in many high-carbohydrate foods that are fried or baked at high temperatures, including french fries, potato chips, some types of breakfast cereals and breads. The chemical was not found in boiled foods, which are cooked at lower temperatures.
Sweden's findings were confirmed in June by governments in Norway, Britain and Switzerland, and preliminary testing of several hundred foods by the FDA suggests U.S. foods contain similar acrylamide levels, said Richard Canady, who is directing the agency's assessment of acrylamide's risk.
Acrylamide is used to produce plastics and dyes and to purify drinking water. Although traces have been found in water, no one expected high levels to be in basic foods.
It causes cancer in test animals, but it has not been proved to do so in people. Still, Swedish scientists have said the levels are high enough that foodborne acrylamide might be responsible for several hundred cases of cancer in that country each year.
In the United States, the FDA has been careful to caution that acrylamide so far is only a suspected carcinogen. The FDA has not yet advised consumers to alter their diets to avoid it. Meanwhile, consumer advocates have pressured the FDA to release which brands contain the most acrylamide.