A carcinogen which may also cause damage to the nervous system forms spontaneously in foods containing starch, for example cereals, potatoes, French fries, chips etc., when fried or baked, Swedish scientists have found. The findings may have major implications for the world food industry, reports foodwire

According to the results published jointly by the Swedish National Food Administration and the University of Stockholm today [Wednesday], foods rich in carbohydrates, such as potatoes and cereals, form the chemical acrylamide when heated over 100 degrees Celsius, that is, when fried, deep-fried, or baked.

Foods which have proven to contain high levels of the chemical include foods eaten daily by millions of people in the Western world, such as bread, French fries, chips, fried potatoes, and cookies.

The acrylamide chemical is carcinogenic, and may also cause damage to the nervous system. In Sweden, the use of the chemical used to line a train tunnel a few years ago led to several cases of poisoning, causing nervous damage in several construction workers. Restrictions on its use are tight worldwide.

According to the study, acrylamide in food could be the cause of 700 cases of cancer in Sweden alone. Smokers are said to be specifically receptive to the chemical, which even at low levels could increase cancer risks.

The scientists, led by Margareta Törnqvist, staff member at the University of Stockholm, will continue their research. Meanwhile, the Swedish National Food Administration has alerted the EU Commission as well as a number of international bodies and the Swedish food industry to the results. However, the NFA has not yet altered its recommendations, other than urging the public to avoid fried food.

To see further information from the Swedish  Food Administration click here.