High levels of cancer risk chemicals in baby food, crisps and cereals

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The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has found higher than expected acrylamide levels in a range of popular baby foods, cereals and crisps. This chemical has been linked to cancer and is developed during high cooking processes.

The watchdog is currently carrying out investigations to determine the reasons for the increased levels and how it can be reduced. They have not advised consumers to cease eating these affected foods.

Annual tests are carried out by the FSA to test for acrylamide in different food products. Its 2013 survey, which was published during this week, found that there were high levels of the chemical in Sunny Start baby wheat flakes, Heinz breakfast banana multigrain for babies and Organix apple rice cakes.

It also found that cereals, crisps and some frozen potato products were likely to develop too much of the chemical if it was cooked by following the package instruction.

When one cooks food to high temperatures, it obtains its crunch, taste and brown colour from a process called the Maillard reaction, but this process creates acrylamide.

The chemical is utilised in industry to make polymers for use in water treatment, sealants and paper making.

To reduce expose to acrylamide, consumers are being asked to follow the guidelines from the FSA which states that chips should be cooked to a light gold and bread toasted to the lightest acceptable colour.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has issued similar guidelines, however has also warned against fridge storage of potatoes as it increases the level of sugar, which is linked to browning.

It stated that tests indicate that acrylamide causes cancer in animals, hence scientists have come to the conclusion that the chemical increases the risk of cancer when found in food.

According to the WHO, the chemical is a concern to human health when it is found in food.

A FSA specialist and head of the EFSA’s committee on food contaminants, Dr Diane Benford, said that when the chemical breaks down in the body, a substance called glycidamide is formed. She said that glycidamide is one of the most likely causes of tumours and gene mutations observed in animal studies.

The supermarket representative, The British Retail Consortium, said the levels of acrylamide in food are declining as retailers continue to work with suppliers in an attempt to limit the incidence of acrylamide in foods.

The maker of Sunny Start, Cow & Gate, said product safety is extremely important and it is investigating the result of the study.

According to Organix, the levels of the chemical in its rice cakes have been reduced and there is no reason to be concerned. Heinz has discontinued the baby cereal which was affected.

Image Credit: Tom & Katrien

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