Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Cancer and Baked Goods

On a day we discover that 'Processed Meats Declared Too Dangerous for Human Consumption' (a subject ably covered by David Calqhoun), it is worth mentioning that food dangers are not confined to the flesh.

I first mentioned acrylamide back in 2008Wiki elaborates on this carcinogen,
  • Acrylamide...occurs in many cooked starchy foods and is of concern as a possible carcinogen. Acrylamide was accidentally discovered in foods in April 2002 by scientists in Sweden when they found the chemical in starchy foods, such as potato chips, French fries, and bread that had been heated (production of acrylamide in the heating process was shown to be temperature-dependent).  It was not found in food that had been boiled or in foods that were not heated.

    In February 2009, Health Canada announced that they were assessing whether acrylamide, which occurs naturally during the cooking of French fries, potato chips, and other processed foods, is a hazard to human health and whether any regulatory action needs to be taken. They are currently collecting information on the properties and prevalence of acrylamide in order to make their assessment. ...

    The European Chemical Agency added acrylamide to the list of substances of very high concern in March 2010.
In 'Eat Your Heart Out', Felicity Lawrence notes that you find acrylamide mostly in baked goods like cereals, breads and chips/crisps - and in the latter at a level 500 times higher than levels permitted by WHO in drinking water! 

Lawrence also observes how modern processing technique, designed to optimise profit and reduce manufacturing times,  promote acrylamide formation, as opposed to dough that has been traditionally fermented.  But the problem does not stop there,
  • Cereals grown in poor soils low in sulphur are more likely to have higher levels of amino acid that is linked to acrylamide formation.  Using lower temperatures for cooking products such as crisps can help but slows down production and costs money.  When it comes to acrylamide in breakfast cereals and cereal products, the levels found were not as high as in crisps, but the industry has struggled to come up with solutions.  The European food and drink industry association, the CIAA, has compiled a toolbox on acrylamide for manufacturers, and from it you get a sense of the huge effort that is going into industrial pilots to see how acrylamide levels could be reduced.  But there are no easy answers, and sometimes the toolbox makes clear that the ways of lowering acrylamide levels are just incompatible with making these kinds of products.  The 'Mailard Reaction [the browning process] which leads to the production of acrylamide also produces the colours and flavours which give baked cereal products their essential characteristics...research has shown that there are as yet no practical options without adverse impact on the sensory and organoleptic properties.'.  The industry magazine Food Manufacture wrote nervously in 2006 of consumers currently appearing to be 'oblivious to the danger' but warning that acrylamide could be 'the next food scare round the corner'.  Since then further independent research in Holland has confirmed the link between acrylamide intake from food and cancer.  Those eating 40 micrograms of acrylamide a day were twice as likely to get cancer of the ovary or womb as those who had low intake.  That's equivalent to...a single packet of crisps.  The FSA...suggested a serving of breakfast cereal could contribute about nine micrograms.
Notwithstanding the lack of figures for 'twice as likely', you get a sense of fear amongst manufacturers about the scale of this problem.

I went to the Food Manufacture website to see how this has matter has progressed.  The latest story I could find was from 2010, and as it happens, I found exactly the spur I need to kick my (instant) coffee addiction:
  • The Commission noted that data collected in 2007 and published last year showed no consistent trend towards lower levels across food categories, meaning it is not yet know whether the toolbox is achieving its desired function.

    However the new recommendations appear to have been drawn up before publication of the 2008 data last month, which do show an apparent downward trend in some categories – but not all. In particular, crisps, instant coffee, and substitute coffee products, such as those based on barley or chicory showed higher levels in 2008 than the previous year.
From reading this stuff I see a serious problem. I see dragging of heels.  I see profits before welfare.  I see 'the least that can be done, being done'.  I see me taking one step further on my paleo journey!

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