Food was once considered as a source of gratification and sustenance but this statement is not true in this modern world where anything we eat comes with a hidden health hazard in it. More troublesome is our behavior towards the problem of hazards related to the food we consume. With growing concerns regarding food contamination by precarious chemicals, we are still behaving like a pigeon with closed eyes trying to escape the inexorable. Is it not really a folly – to have this easy-going attitude towards our health?
Potato is an important food crop in Pakistan after cereals. At the time of independence, the total area under potato cultivation was around 3,000 hectares and since then the value has increased to a large extent as Pakistan is using potatoes not only to fulfill the food requirements of its people but also to generate income by its export. Deep frying processes are used to make various products from potatoes. Among the processed potato products, potato chips and shoestring fries are widely consumed in Pakistan. Recent studies, however, have shown that acrylamide which is a genotoxic carcinogen, is formed mainly during high-temperature processes such as frying.
The color of potato chips is an outstandingly important benchmark for the potato processing industry and it is factually related to the perception of the end-user. On the other hand, acrylamide has lately been reported as a critical compound for human health which is formed in potatoes during frying and is exceedingly associated with the color of the chips.
For the first time in 2002, Acrylamide (AA) or 2-propenamide was discovered in a wide range of food products such as oven cooked and fried foods. The unearthing of acrylamide in foodstuff raised great concerns as this chemical compound has been classified as a potent carcinogen. Acrylamide in food is produced as a by-product of the Maillard reaction among asparagine and reducing sugars. Thus, the formation of acrylamide along with different processing conditions during food preparation and storage also depends upon the concentration of reducing sugars and asparagine in food samples. It is deduced that acrylamide is formed as a result of asparagine degradation by carbonyl (from glucose and fructose source) reaction. Various factors may affect the formation of acrylamide in cereal and potato products such as the variety of raw materials used, harvesting time, storage condition, and fertilization. Reducing sugar is the limiting factor in the acrylamide formation process, so in order to reduce the amount of acrylamide in foodstuff, it is a better option to control the concentration of reducing sugars and asparagine in eatables.
The formation of acrylamide begins at 100°C and increases up to 220 C in processes like roasting, frying, and baking. Daily intake of acrylamide as estimated through risk assessment is 0.2-0.8 mg/kg body weight. Huma ns are mostly exposed to acrylamide by intake of potato products, coffee, bakery products, and chocolates.
According to the report of the European Union, the concentration of acrylamide was found to be high in processed foods like fried chips, potato chips, crispy bread, biscuits, bread, and cereals. Although necessary measures are taken by some food companies to bring down the concentration of acrylamide in different products overall framework shows that more forceful efforts are required to deal with this momentous affair concerning public health.
Presently, the concentration of acrylamide in processed food products has become a very significant health matter. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Scientific Committee for Food (SCF) of the European Union also raised their concerns about the problem. On a laboratory scale, it was confirmed that acrylamide is responsible for tumors in animals.
Acrylamide which is a carcinogenic, neurotoxic, and genotoxic substance, is produced mainly in starchy foods that are baked, roasted, or fried at elevated temperature. A research study was conducted in Lahore, Pakistan to determine the presence of acrylamide in different branded and non-branded potato chips. Staggering results were obtained as a high amount of acrylamide was found in branded chips.
Despite health concerns, potato chips are the most commonly consumed snack food not only in Pakistan but throughout the globe with billions of packets being consumed every year. Concerns about the potential health issues associated with the formation of acrylamide in chips are a matter of disquiet as deep frying may cause the formation of acrylamide in potato chips which are widely ingested in Pakistan especially by children. No legal limits have yet been established in Pakistan for this ”cancer-causing contaminant in food. It is, therefore, a dire need to raise awareness regarding this probable carcinogen, as consumers and industries still have no understanding of the consequences of exposure to this hazardous chemical compound mainly found in potato chips. Thereupon, without any hold-up, work should be done to alleviate the acrylamide levels in food items during processing.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Dunya News’ editorial stance.