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What is acrylamide?

Acrylamide is a chemical that appears to be produced naturally in food as a result of baking or frying. It is also likely to be produced by grilling and roasting food, either at home or on a large scale. No significant levels of this chemical were found in raw or boiled foods. However, little is known as yet about how or why this occurs.

As acrylamide appears to be formed in food by common cooking and baking practices, people are likely to have been exposed to it through this route since time immemorial.

On the basis of data from animal experimentation and understanding of its biological effects, acrylamide is considered to be a probable human carcinogen. It has caused nerve damage in people who have been exposed to it at work. In studies carried out on male animals, acrylamide was shown to impair fertility.

Acrylamide is one of many substances we are exposed to in foods that may be detrimental to our health, including immediate risks such as food poisoning from not cooking food thoroughly. Most of our foods contain some level of substances that could contribute to cancer. However, the potential carcinogenic effects are mostly not observed in practice; so far there is no evidence that acrylamide in foods actually is an important factor in the incidence of cancer in the human population. It can thus be concluded that any possible risks to human health from acrylamide in food would only arise from long-term exposure.

The presence of acrylamide in foods cannot be prevented unless all foods are eaten raw, which would seriously increase the risk of foodborne diseases and infections. There is no need to change dietary habits.

In industry, it is manufactured as a crystalline white powder and is used in the production of polyacrylamide gels.

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