French fries and potato chips are the most well-known sources of the
carcinogen acrylamide, prompting a lawsuit by California's attorney general,
there are many other food sources of the chemical, including black olives,
coffee, bread, and breakfast cereal.
Present in 40 Percent of Calories
Acrylamide was once believed only to be the product of industrial waste;
it was not until 2002 that it was discovered to be almost everywhere in the
human diet. It is a tasteless, invisible byproduct formed when foods --
particularly high-carbohydrate foods -- are fried or baked at high
The chemical is present in 40 percent of the caloric intake of most
Americans, although French fries and potato chips contain the highest
Universal Presence Affects Lawsuit
The almost universal presence of the chemical has led to some doubts about
the possibility of success in the California attorney general's lawsuit
against fast food companies and potato chip manufacturers.
The suit argues that the companies are required, under California law, to
warn the public about toxic chemicals in their food.
Eight Hundred Times the Safe Dose
The EPA considers acrylamide so dangerous that it has the safe level for
human consumption at almost zero; the maximum safe level in drinking water is
0.5 parts per billion. A small serving of French fries contains over 400
parts per billion of the chemical.
It is universally agreed that acrylamide causes cancer; however, no one is
certain exactly how much of the chemical represents a dangerous dose.