Friday, September 08, 2006

Have Some Chips with that Acrylamide, Sir?

Toast!(See my earlier post for background on what this chemical is and why it's causing a fuss.)

I can't find an agency that has stepped up to the plate and declared an amount of acrylamide that's safe to consume on a regular basis - especially since its outing as a pretty common component in baked and fried foods - we're talking toast now. That doesn't mean there isn't someone, somewhere who has enough knowledge of the toxicity of this chemical to feel comfortable committing to a number. It just means I haven't found them. What I have found is the following:
  • In 1990, California's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) established a "safe harbor number" or "no significant risk level (NSRL)" for acrylamide of 0.2 mcg/day.1

  • In 2005, CA's OEHHA considered (and is still considering) raising this safe level to 1.0 mcg/day to "reflect more recent studies of acrylamide", and to 10 mcg/day for just breads and cereals.1, 2 (i.e. A warning would then not be required on breads and cereals that came in under this level. It seems to be protecting manufacturers of these foods, some of which offer other health benefits: fiber, vitamins, etc.)

  • In 2005, Michael Jacobson, PhD, director of the food-advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), sent a letter to CA's OEHHA which argued against raising the level to 10.0 mcg/day for breads and cereals.3 "There should be no special treatment of all breads and cereals because some breads and cereals are not healthy foods," says he. It does seem unfair to create different bars for different industries.
And the pièce de résistance:
  • In 2002, the FDA "using an uncertainty factor of 1,000 (equivalent to a safety factor), determined the acceptable daily intake of acrylamide with respect to neurotoxicity to be 12 [mgr]g/p/d [12 mcg/day]." 4 In all fairness, they made this claim before acrylamide's outing in food. I can't see why this still wouldn't apply.

Given the above, something between 0.2 mcg/day and 12 mcg/day may be a reasonable upper limit for intake of acrylamide to avoid damage to nerve cells and risk for cancer. That's my guess.

Here's a possible reason why I'm finding it so difficult to track down an upper limit for intake:

The FDA recently calculated the mean daily acrylamide intake in the US diet as 0.4 micrograms per kilogram body weight (0.4 mcg/kg-bw).5 (Their estimate for children between the ages of 2 and 5 is more than double that: 1.06 mcg/kg-bw. Some European countries also clock in with high intakes.6) That would mean a woman who weighs 120 pounds (54.4 kg) is getting about 21.8 mcg/day, a 200 pound man is getting 36.3 mcg/day.

Let's review...
The FDA's "acceptable daily intake of acrylamide" is 12 times the level that California is proposing as a "safe harbor number", yet most Americans are routinely consuming about double that And anyone can blow through these levels by eating just 1 oz potato chips (about 10 chips):

Acrylamide in a few popular foods:5

2.5 oz. (70 g) oven-baked French fries - 48.8 mcg
5 oz. (140 g) of prune juice - 30.0 mcg
1 oz. (30 g) potato chips - 17.9 mcg
2 oz. (55 g) breakfast cereal - 6.6 mcg
0.5 oz. (15 g) canned black olives (about 4 medium) - 3.6 mcg

Since the above list (which I adapted from an FDA PowerPoint presentation) speaks in generalities, I decided to go to the brand-name source and convert a few foods' parts-per-billion (ppb) measurements into something my more work-a-day mind could grasp - also, something I could compare to that conservative 12 mcg upper limit.

Boy, do generalities really do a disservice to French fries. Here are how some randomly selected* non-potato foods ranked:
  • Health Valley Original Oat Bran Graham Crackers, 37 g (8 crackers) - 57.0 mcg
  • Wheatena Toasted Wheat Cereal, 41 g (1/3 cup) - 43.3 mcg
  • Fat Free Natural Ry-Krisp, 45 g (2 triple crackers) - 27.9 mcg
  • Nabisco Grahams, 28 g (4 squares) - 26.4 mcg
Fries and chips still clock in with a hearty acrylamide dose:
  • Ore Ida Golden Fries (baked), 70 g (2.5 oz.) - 76.9 mcg
  • Pringles Sweet Mesquite BBQ Flavored Potato Crisps, 28 g (1 oz., 14 crisps) - 70.3 mcg
  • Pringles Ridges Original Potato Crisps, 28 g (1 oz., 14 crisps) - 36.0 mcg
  • Baked! Lay's Original Naturally Baked Potato Crisps, 28 g (1 oz.) - 30.7 mcg
Acrylamide in Foods
Click chart for larger.

I know people who can finish off a whole sleeve of Pringles chips in a sitting - for the BBQ, that's 422 mcg acrylamide! And that doesn't include the bowls of cereal they ate for breakfast. Tell me, someone please tell me. Are we risking numbness and tingling in our extremities? Mental fog? ... Tumors? Were you just kidding, FDA, when you said "the acceptable daily intake of acrylamide with respect to neurotoxicity [was] 12 mcg/day"? Is California more on the mark with a limit of 1 mcg? If there are remedies for this, what's the hold-up on their employment? If no one is interested in reducing acrylamide levels, couldn't we at least require a warning on some of the most affected foods (see above) so people could make their own health decisions?

Why is everyone being so silent on this?

* They aren't exactly random - admittedly I was scanning for high values. I don't mean to pick on any of these brands. I just plucked them from the FDA's data as examples. It's important to note that acrylamide content varies among brands, within brands, and even within different packages of the same food product.

1Acrylamide and Proposition 65, Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment
2Initial Statement of Reasons, Title 22, California Code of Regulations, Section 12705(b). Specific Regulatory Levels Posing No Significant Risk.
3Correspondence from Michael Jacobson (CSPI) to Ms. Susan Luong (OEHHA), June 14, 2005.
4"Secondary Direct Food Additives Permitted for Direct Addition to Food for Human Consumption", Federal Register, June 25, 2002, Volume 67, Number 122, page 42714.
5 FDA: The 2006 Exposure Assessment for Acrylamide
6 Human Exposure and Internal Dose Assessments of Acrylamide in Food

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