Acrylamide is a chemical compound used to make polyacrylamide materials.  Polyacrylamide is used to remove particles and impurities in drinking water.  Acrylamide is also produced in some foods cooked at high temperatures.

It is unclear how or why acrylamide forms when food is cooked at high temperatures.
Levels of the substance increase when carbohydrates and proteins are mixed together such as in potato and wheat products that are heated or fried in oils but it can also occur in baked, grilled, roasted, or toasted foods.

Because there has been little research conducted on why acrylamide develops in foods it is also unknown what can be done to avoid the substance.  Preventive measures to reduce chances of exposure to the chemical include not cooking food excessively–for too long or at high level temperatures.  Researchers have not found acrymlamide in food that is prepared below 250 degrees Fahrenheit.  With this being said there should be further reinforcement on reduction of intake of fried and fatty foods.  

Scientists have determined that acrylamide is a carcinogen, but it belongs to a group of chemicals that have a low threshold of effects that result in low risks.  In a webcast for the International Food Information Council Foundation, Dr. Carl Winer, Director of the Food Safe Program and Extension Toxicologist at the University of California at Davis commented, “It’s the dose that makes the poison and that anything can be toxic at a high enough dose.”

California’s Proposition 65 states, “no person in the course of doing business shall knowingly and intentionally expose any individual to a chemical known to the state to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity without first giving clear and reasonable warning to such individual.”

KFC restaurants in California display posters on the wall with a disclaimer reading “Cooked potatoes that have been browned, such as French fries, baked potatoes, and potato chips, contain acrylamide, a chemical known to the state of California to cause cancer.”

Tips for reducing acrylamide exposure when preparing food at home:

Store potatoes in a dry place–not the refrigerator.
Prepare toast and potatoes to a light golden brown color.
Prepare potatoes with the skin on as the nutrients will lock in and decrease the chance for acrylamide formation.

  • Rich Schafermeyer

    The primary cause of acrylamide in foods is actually well known. It’s a reaction of the naturally occurring amino acid asparagine with reducing sugars. Drying conditions and higher temperatures cause asparagine to fragment into acrylamide. This mean that baked, fried, grilled, roasted and other common forms of cooking cause the reaction to occur. Typically the darker the color, the more acrylamide. Asparagine is found in almost all proteins, but the free amino acid which is more reactive is especially high in roots, seeds, beans and other vegetable matter. Acrylamide is typically not found in animal based foods unless they have vegetable matter added (e.g., coated deep fried chicken).

  • James R. Coughlin, Ph.D.

    I beg to disagree with your contention that “there has been little research conducted on why acrylamide develops in foods…it is also unknown what can be done to avoid the substance.” In fact we know exactly how acrylamide forms in most heated foods [the reaction between glucose or fructose and the amino acid asparagine] and we knew it conclusively within about 4 months of the global announcement of acrylamide’s occurrence in heated foods. We also have seen hundreds of published studies describing how acrylamide levels can be mitigated in many foods.