The FDA explains that acrylamide, which has been found to cause cancer in animals exposed to very high levels of the chemical, can form in plant-based foods — potatoes, cereals, coffee, crackers or breads, dried fruits among others — during high-temperature cooking processes like frying and baking.
“While acrylamide has probably been around as long as people have been baking, roasting, toasting or frying foods, it was only in 2002 that scientists first discovered the chemical in food,” writes the FDA, which has spent the last decade investigating the effects of acrylamide and how it can be reduced in food products and limited in folks’ diets.
And so yesterday it released a draft document [PDF] containing non-binding guidelines, suggestions, and strategies for food producers on ways they can lower the amount of acrylamide in those foods associated with higher levels of the chemical.
The FDA also released suggestions for consumers on how they can cut down on how much acrylamide they eat. The agency admits that it’s neither feasible nor necessary to completely eliminate the chemical from one’s diet, but maintains that there are benefits to cutting back on the amount one takes in.
Alas, some of the below recommendations from the FDA do mean paler taters on your plate:
Frying causes acrylamide formation. If frying frozen fries, follow manufacturers’ recommendations on time and temperature and avoid overcooking, heavy crisping or burning.
Toast bread to a light brown color rather than a dark brown color. Avoid very brown areas.
Cook cut potato products such as frozen french fries to a golden yellow color rather than a brown color. Brown areas tend to contain more acrylamide.
Do not store potatoes in the refrigerator, which can increase acrylamide during cooking. Keep potatoes outside the refrigerator in a dark, cool place, such as a closet or a pantry.
For further reading, the FDA has an entire FAQ page dedicated to questions and answers about acrylamide.