KNN Staff Researcher/Writer
World Health Organization began a three-day emergency meeting in Geneva to evaluate the recent discovery that certain popular starchy foods, from potato chips to bread, contain a chemical that can cause cancer.New research suggests that you may have one more reason to avoid deep-fried foods.
Never before has the agency assembled so many experts, so quickly, to evaluate food safety. "This is not just another food scare. This is an issue where we find a substance that could give cancer, in foods, and in significant amounts," Jorgen Schlundt, head of WHO's Food Safety Program, told ABCNEWS' John McKenzie. The alarms were triggered in April with the announcement that scientists in Sweden had tested more than 100 food items and discovered that potato and cereal products that were fried, oven-baked and deep-fried may contain high levels of acrylamide, a chemical used to make plastics and dyes that has caused cancer in animals. "It did come as a surprise because it has not been considered as a normal process that you would get acrylamide out of food," said Schlundt. Researchers say it's all about heat. The higher the cooking temperature, the greater the levels of acrylamide. Bread was found to contain 50 micrograms of acrylamide. Cereals, cookies and crackers, and potato chips: 160, 410 and 1,200, respectively. Too Soon to Worry? Since the Swedish study, scientists in several other European countries have tested many of these popular foods with similar results. But here in the United States, many researchers warn we don't know enough about acrylamide to start worrying. While acrylamide causes cancer in rats, there is no evidence it does the same in people. "We put all our reliance upon a rat strain to predict how we're going to respond. Sometimes they do predict it well and many times they do not," said Edward Calabrese, director of the Northeast Regional Environmental Public Health Center at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.