Eating burnt toast and potatoes 'may increase cancer risk'

The danger foods include chips, biscuits, crackers, crisps and breakfast cereals

Eating burnt toast and potatoes 'may increase cancer risk'

Taoiseach Enda Kenny points to overcooked toast at the Royal College of Physicians in Dublin | Image:

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

The Food Standards Agency in Britain (FSA) is launching a campaign following findings from a diet study - which confirm that people in the UK currently consume higher levels of the chemical than is desirable.

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.

Source: FSAI

No specific maximum limits for acrylamide in food have as yet been introduced in the European Union or elsewhere in the world.

Rather, the onus is on manufacturers to develop measures to reduce the levels of acrylamide in their products.

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FASI) say while this information is nothing new, all European counties are working together to reduce risks.

The advice from the FSAI is that consumers maintaining a healthy, balanced diet should not be unduly concerned about the presence of acrylamide in food, based on current knowledge.

It says: "The FSAI does not consider that people should make major changes to their diet or stop eating any of the food products in which acrylamide has been reported.

"A large consumption of fried fatty foods such as chips and potato crisps should however be avoided, and foods should not be overcooked or over fried (for long periods and/or at high temperatures, above 120 degrees Celsius)."

While the European Commission has issued guidance on measures shown to be effective in limiting acrylamide formation to manufacturers, retailers, caterers and consumers, following several workshops.

Additonal reporting IRN