Food & Beverage

Cooking fries until brown could increase cancer risk, Food Standards Agency says

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Food such as potatoes and bread should be cooked until golden rather than brown to reduce exposure to a possible carcinogen, the U.K.'s Food Standards Agency (FSA) has said.

The FSA launched a campaign on Monday advising people to 'go for gold' when cooking to cut their consumption of the chemical acrylamide.

Acrylamide, the FSA said, is generated when foods – especially those high in starch – are cooked at high temperatures for a long time, usually via baking, roasting, frying, grilling or toasting. Its occurrence is a natural by-product of cooking.

Lab tests have shown that acrylamide in the diet caused cancer in animals and the FSA said that the scientific consensus was that acrylamide had "the potential to cause cancer in humans."

It advised the public to cook starchy foods until golden yellow or lighter, follow cooking instructions if cooking packaged products and to eat a balanced diet.

In addition, raw potatoes should not be kept in the fridge if they are to be roasted or fried, as this could increase acrylamide levels.

The guidance comes on the same day the FSA published its Total Diet Study, which found that people in the U.K. were ingesting greater levels of acrylamide "than is desirable."

"Our research indicates that the majority of people are not aware that acrylamide exists, or that they might be able to reduce their personal intake," Steve Wearne, the FSA's director of policy, said in a statement.

"We want our 'Go for Gold' campaign to highlight the issue so that consumers know how to make the small changes that may reduce their acrylamide consumption whilst still eating plenty of starchy carbohydrates and vegetables as recommended in government healthy eating advice," Wearne added.

In response to the FSA's campaign, the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) said that it was "supportive" and welcomed the chance it brought to "raise awareness of steps which consumers can take to reduce acrylamide when preparing foods at home."

Food and drink companies had been "working for years" to cut acrylamide levels in products and also provide consumers with clear instructions for cooking foods, the FDF added.