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Like your roasties dark and crispy? Think again, health chiefs advise

By Jane Kirby

Roast potatoes or chips turned dark-brown with lots of crispy bits are a recipe for increasing your cancer risk, according to a new health warning.

Families are being cautioned that roast potatoes should not be "fluffed up" and they should be roasted to the lightest colour that is acceptable.

Toast should also be browned to a light brown colour to reduce the risks of acrylamide.

This is the chemical compound that forms in some foods when they are cooked at high temperatures (above 120C).

Studies in mice have shown that high levels of acrylamide can cause neurological damage and cancer.

While studies have proved inconclusive, experts believe the compound has the ability to cause cancer in humans as well.

Acrylamide is found in high levels in a range of favourite foods including breakfast cereals (not porridge), chips, potato products (such as waffles or children's potato shapes), biscuits, crackers, crispbread and crisps.

It is also found in coffee, cooked pizza bases, black olives and cereal-based baby foods.

Root vegetables including potatoes, sweet potatoes, beetroot, turnip, swede and parsnips can all carry high levels of the compound once they have been roasted or fried until darker brown or crispy.

As well as high temperatures, long cooking times can increase levels of acrylamide even further.

Acrylamide forms due to a chemical reaction between certain sugars and an amino acid (asparagine) in the food.

Foods such as skinny fries and crisps appear to have the highest levels. However boiling, steaming and microwaving appear far less likely to cause the reaction.

Now the British Food Standards Agency (FSA) has issued a public warning telling people how they can cut their risk, including opting for a gold colour - rather than darker brown - when frying, roasting, baking, grilling or toasting.

People are being told to follow the cooking instructions on packaging to ensure foods are not cooked for too long or at too high a temperature.

The FSA said people should not keep potatoes in the fridge, which can increase overall levels of acrylamide. Instead, raw potatoes should be stored in a dark, cool place with temperatures above 6C.

Evidence also shows the longer potatoes are kept, the more acrylamide can form.

Steve Wearne, director of policy at the FSA, said manufacturers had already taken steps to cut the levels of acrylamide in foods, but it was time for consumers to be made more aware of the risks.

He added: "We are not saying people should worry about the occasional meal ... this is about managing risk over a lifetime.

"Anything you can do to reduce your exposure will reduce your lifetime risk.

"People might, for example, think 'I like my roast potatoes crispy', but they will just decide to have them less often."

Other examples of ways to cut acrylamide include having chunky chips on occasion rather than fries.

The US Environmental Protection Agency says acrylamide is "likely to be carcinogenic to humans", and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) says it is a "probable human carcinogen".

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