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Bulletin of the World Health Organization

Print version ISSN 0042-9686

Bull World Health Organ vol.80 n.6 Genebra Jun. 2002 

Safety of bread and potatoes to be determined soon

WHO has set up a consultation for 25 - 27 June to determine the public health risk of acrylamide in food. This follows the announcement by the Swedish National Food Administration (NFA) on 24 April that acrylamide, which is known to be carcinogenic in animals and thought to be so in humans, had been found at high levels in starch foods cooked at high temperatures such as potatoes and bread. Previously it had been thought that human exposure to this substance was mainly through drinking-water and certain occupations.

The Swedish NFA, in announcing this finding by researchers at Stockholm University, said: "Present knowledge does not allow for a balanced analysis of risks and benefits of staple foods containing acrylamide. The Swedish NFA can currently only issue general advice regarding the risk management of acrylamide to the food industry and consumers ... More knowledge is needed before the dietary advice issued by the NFA can be changed." None of the results announced to date would cause WHO to change its basic dietary advice either. Topics under consideration for the consultation in June include: the comparative uptake levels of acrylamide in food and water; the risk of harmful effects in humans; epidemiological data; comparisons between countries; the possible effects of different food preparation methods; and guidance for reducing the risk of exposure.

Experts wishing to contribute information to the consultation or obtain further information about it can contact Jorgen Schlundt at Food Safety, WHO, Geneva, email