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Monday, 04 August 2008 21:57

California crunches down on potato chip companies over acrylamide

The chemical compound acrylamide is known to cause cancer. It is found in many potato and starchy consumer products, such as potato chips and French fries, when they are heated to high temperatures. California just won a court-approved settlement over potato chip manufacturers in which they agree to reduce levels of acrylamide in their potato chips.

The chemical compound acrylamide (acrylic amide) is a white, orderless crystalline solid with the chemical formula C3H5NO. Acrylamide is mostly used as a thickener in such industrial processes as wastewater treatment, gel electrophoresis, paper-making, ore processing, and permanent-press fabric making.

However, as of 2002, it was discovered to be produced in starchy foods when they are heated to high temperatures in such “browning” methods as baking, frying, and deep-frying. It can also be created through the microwaving of starchy foods.

Most uncooked foods do not contain any measureable amounts of acrylamide. It is also not produced when foods are heated by boiling.

It is, however, frequently found in large amounts in such starchy foods as potato chips, French fries, and bread.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has analyzed a variety of U.S. consumer foods for levels of acrylamide. The listing of these foods and their measured amounts of acrylamide is found at the FDA website “Survey Data on Acrylamide in Food: Individual Food Products.”

The U.S. state of California recently settled a lawsuit against potato chip manufacturers. In 2005, California had first sued fast-food chains and potato chip companies over acrylamide in 2005. The settlement, the culmination of three years of suing, involves the companies of H.J. Heinz Co., Frito-Lay, Kettle Foods Inc., and Lance Inc.

The 2005 lawsuite alleged that the companies violated a state requirement concerning the posting of warning labels on products containing carcinogens (cancer-causing substances).

More information about the California lawsuit is found on page two.

The state states that Frito-Lay is the largest company making potato chips in California. Kettle Foods makes Kettle Chips and Lance Inc. makes Cape Cod Chips.

California state attorney general Jerry Brown stated that the settlement was "a victory for public health and safety in California.” [San Francisco Chronicle: “Lawsuit over potato chip ingredient settled”]

The settlement requires the potato chip companies to reduce acrylamide to 275 parts per billion in three years.

The San Francisco Chronicle articles states, “That amounts to a 20 percent reduction for Frito-Lay and an 87 percent reduction for Kettle Chips...” and “...little or no reduction will be needed for most Cape Cod chips, but one product, Cape Cod Robust Russets, will require a warning label.” Since then, Cape Cod Robust Russets have been taken off the market.

In addition, according to the Associated Press article “Settlement will reduce carcinogens in potato chips,” penalties and costs totaling just over US$2.5 million will be paid by the companies involved in the settlement.
According to AP, Frito-Lay, will pay $1.5 million, Kettle Foods will pay $350,000, Heinz pays $600,000, and Lance pays $95,000.

In the same 2005 lawsuit, California also sued fast-food companies McDonald's, Wendy's, Burger King, and KFC, along with consumer product company Procter & Gamble Co. over acrylamide levels. Those lawsuits were settled after the companies agreed to either properly label their products or lower levels of the chemical.

Specifically, earlier in 2008, Proctor & Gamble agreed to reduce acrylamide by 50% in Pringles potato chips.

In 2007, Burger King, KFC, Wendy’s, and McDonald’s agreed to post warnings about acrylamide in their potato chips and French fries.


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