Food & Society

Eating burnt toast ‘may increase cancer risk’

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Eating certain foods that have been cooked at high temperatures could be linked to cancer, according to health officials.

The danger foods include chips, toast, biscuits, crackers, crisps, breakfast cereals (except for porridge), coffee, cooked pizza bases, black olives and cereal-based baby foods.

Also on the list are root vegetables such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, beetroot, turnip, swede and parsnips once they have been fried until dark brown or crispy.

When cooked at high temperatures (above 120C) a chemical compound forms called acrylamide and studies on mice have shown that high levels of it can cause neurological damage and cancer.

Studies in humans have proved inconclusive

However, the US Environmental Protection Agency has said it is “likely to be carcinogenic to humans” and the International Agency for Research on Cancer described it as a “probable human carcinogen”.

Acrylamide forms from the chemical reaction between some sugars and the amino acid asparagine but the reaction is less likely when food is boiled, steamed or microwaved.

The UK’s Food Standards Agency said people should only fry, roast, bake or toast starchy food until it is a golden yellow colour.

People should also not keep potatoes in the fridge, the FSA said, as this can increase the level of acrylamide. Instead, store raw potatoes in a dark and cool place at above 6C.

Gavin Shears, a senior policy adviser in contaminants at the FSA, said there was no expectation that people would “radically change” their diets if they were already eating a balanced selection of food.

He added: “If you slightly overdo your roast potatoes on a Sunday, it’s not that you have to throw them away.

“We’re not asking people to cut out certain foods.

“This is about reducing your overall lifetime risk through simple steps.”

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