Crumbs: Eating burnt food could increase cancer risk

If you like your toast on the darker side, it could come with a side of a chemical which can cause cancer.

That's the warning from the UK's Food Standards Agency (FSA) about the popular breakfast item as well as other foods which are cooked for long periods at high temperatures (more than 120degC).

The government agency has launched a new campaign to minimise the possible carcinogen acrylamide in people's homes.

It is formed from the chemical reaction between some sugars and the amino acid asparagine, and particularly in starchy foods like bread and potatoes when cooked at high temperatures such as baking, frying, grilling, toasting and roasting.

The FSA's 'Go For Gold' campaign is a direct result of a study which showed those in the UK currently consumer higher levels of the chemical than normal.

"Our research indicates that the majority of people are not aware that acrylamide exists, or that they might be able to reduce their personal intake," FSA director of policy Steve Wearne says.  

The campaign sets out four steps to lower acrylamide at home:

  • Go for gold: Aim for a golden yellow or lighter colour when frying, toasting or roasting starchy foods
  • Check the pack: Follow cooking instructions carefully
  • Don't keep raw potatoes in the fridge: Storing them in the fridge can increase overall acrylamide levels; potatoes should be stored in a cool, dark place at temperatures above 6degC
  • Eat a balanced diet

Lab tests have shown acylamide in the diet can cause cancer in animals, but evidence of the same thing in humans remains inconclusive.