There were many interesting topics at the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) show this year, such as improved-tasting soy products, lutein fortification, wildly colored cheeses, a peanut butter-like spread made from sunflowers, and acrylamide.

Acrylamide, a highly toxic chemical used in the manufacture of plastics, is known to cause nerve damage. It became the focus of media attention this past spring (see our eNewsWeekly websites listed at left), when a group of scientists at the University of Stockholm released the results of a study that found foods cooked to temperatures more than 248ºF (120ºC)—such as potato chips, French fries, breads and processed cereals—all contain elevated levels of acrylamide.

The group released the paper to the media before having it reviewed by peers in a scientific journal, a move seen by some in the scientific community as unusual. The result has been much confusion and misinformation about the topic. Essentially, scientists agree acrylamide is highly toxic. The debate lies in how much of the chemical is in certain foods we eat, and how much humans can safely tolerate.

In June, a special panel of 23 scientific experts including food technologists, toxicologists, biochemists and analytical chemists, hosted by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United National Food and Agriculture Organization, met to discuss the topic. They concluded that there is not yet enough scientific evidence to make educated recommendations about acrylamide levels in the human diet.

Other studies in countries such as Norway, Switzerland, the U.K. and the U.S. also found acrylamide in certain starch-based foods. Levels of the chemical were higher than recommended in the WHO's Guideline Values for Drinking Water Quality. However, it is significant to note that both the acrylamide levels that would be consumed from those foods and the maximum levels recommended by the WHO were less than 70mcg per day for an adult, the quantity said to cause nerve damage in lab animals.

While scientists further investigate how acrylamide is formed during cooking, it makes sense to go back to the basics. It makes sense to make sure the information being released in a study has been reviewed by other experts and to know their opinions. It makes sense to question the facts backing a study and how the study was done. And it makes sense to ask as many questions as possible to make sure our peace of mind, as well as our health, is not jeopardized.

Internet Information

For more information on this issue's articles, see the Internet sites provided below.

Seniors Rule! — American Association of Retired Persons — National Institute of Nutrition — Wharf Research — Alliance for Aging Research

Good Sports — InterBev 2002 — International Society of Beverage Technologists — National Soft Drink Association — Pepsi — Coca-Cola

Whey Protein Isolates (WPI) — Dairy Management Inc.’s dairy ingredient application website — Whey Protein Institute’s website on the benefits of whey — Nutrition forum about dairy components — California Dairy Research Foundations’ educational website on whey — U.S. Dairy Export Council’s whey ingredient monographs

Dieting Away Diabetes — American Diabetes Foundation — American Dietetic Association — Website sponsored by the Centers for disease Control and Prevention — Home page of the Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases of the National Institutes of Health

Type in the word “acrylamide”: — July 8, 2002 PF eNewsWeekly — April 29, 2002 PF eNewsWeekly