Crisp makers under fire for ‘carcinogenic’ acrylamide

One in five potato crisp varieties are high in acrylamide, an investigation claimed

Premium crisp manufacturer Tyrrells has played down warnings over the cancer-causing chemical acrylamide, after an investigation revealed its ‘sweet potato lightly salted crisps’ contained almost 2.5 times the recommended EU limit for acrylamide.

Almost one in five potato crisp varieties – including those from Tyrrells, Morrisons and Aldi – contained high levels of acrylamide, the investigation by sustainability pressure group Changing Markets found.

Many food manufacturers were unaware of the potential risks of acrylamide, or were unwilling to take measures to reduce the levels, Changing Markets claimed. However, Tyrrells countered that the link between human cancer and acrylamide was inconclusive.

A Tyrrells spokeswoman told “Sweet potato crisps are made from wholly natural vegetables, which incur varying changes in their carbohydrate composition in the course of harvesting at different times of the year.

‘Acrylamide forms naturally’

“Acrylamide is a chemical which forms naturally in both manufactured and home-cooked foods as a result of cooking at high temperature such as baking, frying, grilling and roasting. It is present in a wide variety of everyday foods and drinks, ranging from toast to breakfast cereal, and coffee to bourbon biscuits.

“The Food Standards Agency [FSA] stated that studies on human subjects have provided limited and inconsistent evidence of increased risk of developing cancer through raised levels of acrylamide.”

Tyrrells’ response came after the investigation found 16 crisp varieties exceeded the recommended EU maximum level for acrylamide, of 1,000µg/kg (see table below). Tyrrells’ sweet potato lightly salted crisps had the highest levels of acrylamide of all 92 tested potato crisp varieties, with 2,483.6µg/kg.

Morrisons had three crisp varieties that were above the EU recommended levels. Its ‘cheese & onion flavoured popped potato snacks’ (2,067.5µg/kg) and ‘sea salted crinckle cut potato crisps’ (1,825.8µg/kg) had the second and third highest levels of acrylamide respectively, of all varieties tested.

Changing Markets’ campaign director Nusa Urbancic said: “The results published today [April 4] reveal that several companies [were] found to exceed dangerous acrylamide levels, [and] the FSA hasn’t done anything to address this problem.

‘Weak enforcement by the FSA’

“Seabrook, Aldi and Asda continue to place on the market crisps with high levels of this carcinogen. This clearly points to the failure of self-regulation by industry and weak enforcement by the FSA.”

But, the FSA said it was actively working with the food industry to reduce levels of acrylamide throughout the food chain. It was developing new regulations over the carcinogen, it said.

An FSA spokeswoman said: “The FSA is committed to reducing acrylamide in food, working with partners and European Commission to find workable solutions.

“The FSA has been actively supporting the food industry in its development of codes of practice on acrylamide reduction for use throughout the food chain. The approach will require manufacturers to act on acrylamide or face enforcement action.”

Meanwhile, Changing Markets also revealed last month that 10% of biscuits for infants and young children on sale in the UK contained high levels of acrylamide. The pressure group said it organised campaigns designed to shift market power away from unsustainable products and companies, and move them towards environmentally and socially beneficial solutions.


What is acrylamide?
  • Acrylamide is a chemical that is found in certain carbohydrate-containing foods heated above 120°C. Decreasing cooking time, blanching potatoes before frying and drying in a hot air oven after frying will decrease the levels of acrylamide in some foods, according to the US National Cancer Institute (NCI).
  • Previous studies have linked acrylamide exposure to several types of cancer in rodents, but evidence from human studies is still incomplete, NCI added. The National Toxicology Program – a US government-funded research organisation – and the World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer said acrylamide was a “probable human carcinogen”.

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