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Monday, 12 August, 2002, 17:07 GMT 18:07 UK
Cancer risk in microwaved food
Microwave
Swedish researchers tested microwaved food
Microwaving food generates the cancer-causing chemical acrylamide, scientists have discovered.

Swedish research published in April revealed the food contaminant was formed by frying and baking starch-based foods.

But now chemists at Stockholm University have found heating any food containing potato in a microwave produces significant levels of acrylamide.

Acrylamide, a chemical used in industry to make a plastic component, is known to have caused nerve damage in people who have been exposed to it.


"I would say that boiling at 100 C is the only safe cooking method."

Margareta Törnqvist
It appears to form when food reaches temperatures much higher than 100C during cooking.

The latest research, to be published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, is the work of a team led by Dr Margareta Törnqvist who first discovered acrylamide in food.

She believes health is threatened by acrylamide in concentrations greater than 100 parts per billion.

Her recent experiments showed the following amounts of acrylamide in foods:

  • Potato crisps - nearly 4,000 parts per billion

  • Chips - 736 parts per billion

  • Microwaved grated potato - 650 parts per billion

  • Fried spinach - 112 parts per billion

    "I would say that boiling at 100 C is the only safe cooking method," Dr Törnqvist told 4x4 Reports.

    "We found that when we heated protein-rich foods, such as beef and chicken, only moderate levels of acrylamide were produced.

    "But carbohydrate-rich foods had high levels, with crisps and chips producing the most.

    "And the higher the cooking temperature, the higher the level of acrylamide."

    While Dr Törnqvist was hesitant to promote mild cooking because of the dangers of food-borne diseases like Salmonella, she said the study proved overcooking should be avoided, especially with potatoes.

    "We have so far only studied the carbohydrate-rich staple foods of Western society.

    "But these form some of our most popular meals so food companies may have to make big changes in the way they produce food."

  •  WATCH/LISTEN
     ON THIS STORY
    Prof Tim Lang, Thames Valley University
    "Acrylamide is a known cancer agent but has never been found in food before because no-one's bothered to look."
    4x4 Reports: Diets in the dock


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    See also:

    24 May 00 | Health
    19 Nov 99 | Medical notes
    07 Jun 99 | Medical notes
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