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Acrylamide and Cancer

Does acrylamide in food cause cancer?

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First published: 06.Dec.2023

Overview: cancer risk from consuming dietary acrylamide

Acrylamide is a chemical compound that forms in some starch rich foods when they are fried or baked. It has shown to cause cancer in animals, but there is little evidence to support that dietary acrylamide can cause cancer.

Here we will look into acrylamide, its cancer risk and how to avoid it in your food.

In this Article (Index)

McDonalds fries
French fries contain acrylamide. Source

What is Acrylamide?

Arcylamide (C3H5NO) is a low-weight organic chemical compound that is highly soluble in water.

Acrylamide is produced on an industrial scale for use in many industries, from pulp and paper to foundry, oil drilling, textiles and plastics.

It can be found in small quantities in food-contact items such as packaging.

In 2002, acrylamide was discovered in foods, and studies showed that arcylamide also forms in a natural manner when certain types of starchy foods are cooked.

During cooking, reducing sugars like fructose and glucose combine with an aminoacid called asparagine at temperatures above 248°F (120°C) to form acrylamide. It is formed in foods that are rich in carbohydrates that are fried, toasted or baked like cereals, potatoes and coffee beans (2).

Does acrylamide cause cancer?

There are differing points of view regarding the cancer risk associated with acrylamide (1):

  • In 1994, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified acrylamide as a "probable human carcinogen." (3)
  • The US National Toxicology Program (NTP) (4) reports that:
    "Dietary exposure to acrylamide has not been associated with an increased risk of colorectal, bladder, esophageal, prostate, oropharyngeal, laryngeal, pancreatic, gastric, or lung cancer.
    Data regarding the effect of dietary acrylamide on the risk of breast, renal, ovarian, and endometrial cancer are inconsistent.
    Subsequent to these reviews, additional epidemiological studies have appeared that examined the relationship between dietary acrylamide and brain, breast, endometrial, head and neck, ovarian, prostate, and thyroid cancer. All were negative, with the exception of ovarian cancer, which was positive , and endometrial cancer, for which both positive and negative results were reported.
  • The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has indicated that "Human data are inadequate on acrylamide and cancer risk. In rats orally exposed to acrylamide, significantly increased incidences of tumors at multiple sites have been observed. EPA has classified acrylamide as a Group B2, probable human carcinogen." (5)
  • The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that "Acrylamide has been shown to cause cancer in animals exposed to very high doses, and although there is no consistent epidemiological evidence on the effect of acrylamide from food consumption on cancer in humans, both the U.S. National Toxicology Program and the Joint Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) consider acrylamide to be a human health concern." (6)

Take-home point

Acrylamide may probalby, potentially cause cancer though only one study seemed to link it to ovarian cancer. It does cause cancer in animals (but at rates far higher than you would experience by eating food.

So the risk of dietary acrylamide causing cancer is extremely low.

Are dietary acrylamides safe?

Cancer Research UK, (7) is terminant and states that "eating foods high in acrylamide, like toast, charred root vegetables or roast potatoes will not increase your risk of cancer... Your overall diet (what you eat day to day) is more important than individual foods for reducing your cancer risk."

This is a very reasonable position because consuming a diverse and balanced diet promotes good health. Eating plants, vegetables and unprocessed foods with natural antioxidants and bioactive compounds are a great way to counteract the harmful effects of a bad diet.

Furthermore, home-cooked food contain far less acrylamides than processed-foods manufactured using industrial processes.

Regulation and mitigation of Acrylamide in foods

Despite the minimal risk of cancer, based on animal studies, the European Union (EU) considers that acrylamide found in food can potentially increase the risk of cancer in humans and issued a directive that defined measures to reduce the amount of acrylamide in food and set some benchmark levels for it (2).

The EU directive mentions the following products:

  • French fries, potato chips, crackers, snacks and crisps.
  • Bread, bakery products (biscuits, scons, wafers, crackers, cereal bars) and breakfast cereals (excluding porridge).
  • Roast cofee, instant coffee, and coffee substitutes.
  • Baby food and, processed cereal-based food for infants.

The regulation also sets a benchmark level for acylamide in foods, expressed in μg ⁄ kg. For French fries it is 500; for Wheat based bread: 50; for bran, puffed grain and whole grain cereals: 300; roast coffee: 400; instant coffee: 850, baby foods: 40.

Can acrylamide be avoided?

Those who work in an industry where acrylamide is generated, are protected by industrial health guidelines that set limits to worker exposure. The general population has two sources of acrylamide exposure: cigarette smoke and certain foods.

The FDA recommends the following actions to reduce exposure levels (8):

  • Don't smoke, and avoid being a passive smoker.
  • Replace frying and roasting with boiling and steaming, that don't produce acrylamides.
  • Shorten frying or cooking times.
  • For potatoes, when making fries or chips, follow these tips to reduce the formation of acrylamide: store potatos at room temperature; soak the raw potatoes in water for 15-30 minutes, drain and dry with a paper towel, cook at not more than 302°F (150°C) till they reach a light color; don't brown them. Don't reuse the oil, replace it after frying to avoid acrylamide build up.

Acrylamide levels in oil depend on the oil you fry with: a study found acrylamide levels of 890−1200 μg/kg in sunflower oil, 981−1299 μg/kg in corn oil, and 892−1163 μg/kg in olive oil (the lowest value) (9).

Consider frying with Extra Virgin olive oil; it is an unrefined plant oil extracted by cold pressing.

bottle with olive oils and some fresh olives
Olive oil, a natural healthy ingredient. Source

Closing Comments

Perhaps avoiding the French fries from fast food restaurants is a good idea, it will reduce your intake of calories and unhealthy added salt, fats and sugars that also pose a risk of heart disease and cancer. Learn more about the Health risks of Ultra-processed-foods.

References and Further Reading

(1) American Cancer Society. Acrylamide and Cancer Risk. Accessed Dec. 1, 2023

(2) European Union (2017) Commission Regulation (EU) 2017 ⁄ 2158. Accessed Dec. 1, 2023

(3) IARC (1994). Acrylamide. Some Industrial Chemicals IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans Volume 60 ISBN-13 978-92-832-1260-7

(4) National Toxicologic Program (2012). NTP Technical Report on the toxicology and carcinogenesis studies of acrylamide. July 2012, NIH

(5) Environmental Protection Agency (2016). Acrylamide. Accessed Dec. 1, 2023

(6) Food and Drug Administration - FDA (2022). Acrylamide, 02.25.2022. Accessed Dec. 1, 2023

(7) Cancer Research UK (2021) Can eating burnt foods cause cancer?. 10.15.2021. Accessed Dec. 1, 2023

(8) FDA (2022). Acrylamide and Diet, Food Storage, and Food Preparation, 02.25.2022. Accessed Dec. 1, 2023

(9) Burhan Basaran, Hulya Turk. (2021). The influence of consecutive use of different oil types and frying oil in French fries on the acrylamide level. Journal of Food Composition and Analysis, Vol 104, 104177, ISSN 0889-1575,

About this Article

Acrylamide and Cancer, A. Whittall

©2023, 06 Dec. 2023. Update scheduled for 06 Dec. 2026.

Tags: diet, food, health risks, cancer, acrylamide, French fries, ultra-processed foods, processed foods.

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