In 2002, Swedish scientists made a stunning discovery. Lab tests found acrylamide—a chemical known to cause cancer in animals—in a variety of popular foods, from bread to french fries.

Acrylamide typically forms in foods when a naturally occurring amino acid (asparagine) combines with (natural or added) sugars at high temperatures.

Does acrylamide cause cancer in humans? So far, studies in people haven’t found a clear link.

Information and graphics adapted from “Chemicals in food 2016,” European Food Safety Authority.

Still, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the National Toxicology Program, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency all say that acrylamide is likely to be a human carcinogen. So it makes sense to consume as little as possible.

Acrylamide levels would be far lower if the FDA had set limits on the amount in foods instead of simply issuing voluntary guidelines on how to lower levels in 2016.

For example, the FDA says that companies can lower acrylamide by adding asparaginase (an enzyme that breaks down asparagine), calcium, or other safe additives, or by processing at lower temperatures.

How to cut down on acrylamide

The last time the Food and Drug Administration tested foods for acrylamide, potato chips and french fries had some of the highest levels. That was in 2004. Since then, some companies have taken steps to reduce acrylamide, while others likely have done little or nothing. How much acrylamide is in any given brand of chips, fries, or other food? Unless the company replies when you ask—don’t hold your breath —there’s no way to tell.

diagram showing how acrylamide forms in food

Here are some tips to help you cut down on acrylamide. Don’t worry about acrylamide in fish, poultry, meat, dairy, or most fruits or vegetables.

  • Fried potatoes have the most acrylamide. Roasted have less, and baked are even lower. Microwaved and boiled potatoes have none.

  • Store potatoes in a cool, dark place like a pantry or closet, not in the refrigerator. Cold temperatures turn some of the spuds’ starch into sugars.

  • Choose thicker fries (acrylamide forms near the surface, and an order of thicker fries has less surface area than an order of thinner fries) and thinner potato chips (they require less heat to cook).

  • Roasting, especially at higher temperatures, turns the asparagine in almonds into acrylamide. Roasted cashews and peanuts have much less acrylamide. Raw nuts have none.
burnt toast
normal and burnt French fries
  • Toast bread and cook potatoes until they're golden yellow, not dark brown.
sweet potato and sweet potato fries


  • Sweet potato chips are higher in acrylamide than regular potato chips. And sweet potato chips and fries are higher than baked sweet potatoes
pizza with black olives
  • Canned California-style black olives are higher in acrylamide than other olives (thanks, in part, to the heat used in canning). You’ll find them on pizzas and nachos.
veggie chips
veggie sticks
  • “Veggie” chips and sticks that are made from dehydrated potatoes may have more acrylamide than potato chips.
coffee beans
  • Dark roast coffee has less acrylamide than light roast. (Acrylamide is created early during the roasting process, but levels decline as roasting proceeds.)
prunes and prune juice
  • Plums have more asparagine than most other fruits. Low levels of acrylamide form when they’re dried to make prunes. Higher levels are created when the prunes are made into juice.

Photos: Jennifer Urban/CSPI (veggie chips), all others: © schankz (light & dark fries), © KDImages (prune juice), © Coprid (almonds), © Brent Hofacker (veggie sticks), © mates (light & dark coffee), © philip kinsey (sweet potato), © Elenathewise (sweet potato fries), © milosluz (light & dark toast), © supparsorn (black olives).