|WASHINGTON - Acrylamide, a cancer-causing substance that caused scares when it was found in fried potatoes and other popular foods, is also found in olives, prune juice and teething biscuits, U.S. regulators said yesterday.|
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration released figures on a new batch of food it tested and confirmed earlier findings that suggest cooked and especially fried snacks contain the highest levels - potato chips, pretzels and popcorn.
To their relief, officials found no acrylamides in infant formula but said they would continue looking as it is a sole source of food for so many babies.
Scientists stress that they have no idea what any of this means, yet, for human health.
Acrylamide is naturally formed in some starchy foods when they are fried, baked, or roasted at high temperatures. No one suspected it was so pervasive in food until Swedish scientists announced they had found it in 2002.
\"To date, acrylamide is known to cause cancer and reproductive problems in animals at high doses and is a neurotoxin in humans at high doses,\" the FDA said in a statement.
\"Although initial reports of acrylamide\'s presence in some foods raised concerns because of possible links with increased risk of cancer in some laboratory animals, it was largely unknown how pervasive it was in the food supply, and its true public health significance for humans,\" the FDA added.
\"Based on the current understanding of the science, FDA continues to advise consumers to eat a balanced diet, choosing a variety of foods that are low in trans- and saturated fat and rich in high fiber grains, fruits and vegetables.\"
Trans-fats are created when fat is processed and clog the arteries like cholesterol does.
TESTING POPULAR FOODS
To find out how much acrylamide people might be eating, the FDA has been testing popular food products. For its latest sample the FDA bought 750 different foods from bread to pancake syrup.
It found no acrylamide in the processed cheeses, milk and ice cream tested. Relatively high levels were found in arrowroot cookies - commonly given to small children - teething biscuits, sweet potatoes and lower levels in some prepared meals such as turkey and vegetable dinners.
Other childhood favorites such as peanut butter and chocolate chip cookies were also sources.
Home-cooked meats seemed acrylamide-free but fried chicken and fast-food chicken nuggets contained the compounds.
Fresh fruits and vegetables seemed clear but bottled prune juice and black olives had relatively high levels of acrylamides.
The FDA says it plans more studies on just how toxic acrylamides may be.
In June a team at the City of Hope National Medical Center in Duarte, California, found that acrylamides can mutate DNA.
Experts say the best way to find out if acrylamide causes cancer in people is to do epidemiological studies - studies of populations to see if people who eat more foods containing acrylamides have higher rates of cancer.
One such study, published by U.S. and Swedish researchers in January 2003, found no link between acrylamide consumption and the risk of bladder or kidney cancer.
But a consumer group, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, is lobbying for limits on acrylamide in food.
Rhona Applebaum, Executive Vice President of the National Food Processors Association, argued this would not be necessary.
\"FDA\'s research on acrylamide levels in various foods is neither a warning to consumers nor a finding of risk associated with any particular foods or individual brands,\" she said in a statement.
More FDA data can be found on the Internet at www.cfsan.fda.gov.
Story by Maggie Fox, Health and Science Correspondent
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE