Acrylamide is a chemical found naturally in many foods. When these foods are processed at high temperatures, the levels of acrylamide tend to rise. This is of concern to health professionals because acrylamide has been identified as a possible carcinogen.

Acrylamide was among the chemicals on the Government of Canada’s Batch 5 Chemical Management Plans Challenge, launched on February 21, 2009. This challenge was issued to
ensure that Canadians’ exposure to acrylamide from food sources is kept low as possible. Health workers in Canada were committed to working with health authorities in other countries to better understand how this chemical substance is formed in foods and its effect on the human body. Health Canada is also extending their efforts in collaborating with the food industry to be watchful of processed food production, ensuring that the acrylamide content in these foods is greatly reduced.

How is acrylamide formed?
Asparagines are a type of amino acid found in several fruits and vegetables such as nuts and potatoes. When foods that contain asparagines (in particular, starchy foods like potatoes and grains) are heated to high temperatures together with certain sugar substances, acrylamide may be formed. High-temperature cooking includes baking, frying, roasting, and broiling. Longer cooking times may also trigger the formation of acrylamide, especially when cooking at a temperature above 120 degrees Celsius.

The formation of acrylamide can be better understood by the Maillard reaction. In simple terms, the Maillard reaction is a mechanism known to produce that tasty crust and beautiful golden colour we’ve grown to appreciate in fried and baked foods. This reaction occurs during frying or baking, when there is a proper combination of lipids, carbohydrates, and proteins in foods.

Smoking has also been found to be a source of acrylamide, but scientists have yet to further investigate on this.

Foods that may contain acrylamide
The World Health Organization (WHO) first began to look at the dangers of acrylamide in 2002 after a study in Sweden was published linking it to certain cancers. They also studied common foods containing asparagines that are converted to acrylamide when heated:

Food

Serving

Acrylamide (mcg)

McDonalds french fries, large

6.2 oz.

82

Burger King french fries, large

5.7 oz.

59

KFC potato wedges, jumbo

6.2 oz.