Cancer risk from burnt food highlighted by European agency

Food safety experts say children are most exposed group and urge more selective habits

This is how toast should be cooked, according to the European Food Safety Authority. Photograph: Photographer: Dara Mac Dónaill

This is how toast should be cooked, according to the European Food Safety Authority. Photograph: Photographer: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

It’s not an old wives’ tale. Eating burnt toast really does increase your risk of developing cancer. The European Food Safety Authority has published its opinion on acrylamide, the chemical that forms in starchy foods during high-temperature cooking, and has found that it does increase the risk of cancer in all age groups. Children are the most exposed group.

Acrylamide is found in fried potato products such as chips, roast potatoes and croquettes, as well as in coffee, soft bread, biscuits, crackers and crisp breads. It is formed naturally when temperatures exceed 120 degrees and moisture is low. The chemical process that causes the chemical to form is the same one that browns food.

The authority said evidence from animal studies showed that acrylamide damaged DNA and caused cancer. “Evidence from human studies that dietary exposure to acrylamide causes cancer is currently limited and inconclusive.”

The European agency said it was “practically impossible” to eliminate acrylamide from the diet so most advice for the consumer centred on more selective home-cooking habits.