Snack chips, french fries show highest levels of known carcinogen; CSPI calls on FDA to test more food

Popular American brands of snack chips and French fries contain disturbingly high levels of acrylamide, according to new laboratory tests commissioned by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). The tests were conducted by the same Swedish government scientists that two months ago first discovered the cancer-causing chemical in certain fried and baked starchy foods. CSPI’s tests included several popular brands of snack chips, taco shells, French fries, and breakfast cereals—the kinds of foods that were initially shown to have some of the highest acrylamide levels.

Today is the first day of a three-day closed meeting in Geneva of experts convened by the World Health Organization (WHO) to discuss the health ramifications of the acrylamide discovery, which has since been confirmed by the British, Swiss, and Norwegian governments. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) though, has been standing on the sidelines of what is fast becoming a major global debate, according to CSPI, which today called on the agency to treat acrylamide with greater seriousness.

“The FDA has been strangely silent about acrylamide,” CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson said. “It should be advising consumers to avoid or cut back on the most contaminated and least nutritious foods while more testing is done across the food supply. The FDA also should be intensively investigating ways of preventing the formation of this carcinogen.”

Fast-food French fries showed the highest levels of acrylamide among the foods CSPI had tested, with large orders containing 39 to 82 micrograms. One-ounce portions of Pringles potato crisps contained about 25 micrograms, with corn-based Fritos and Tostitos containing half that amount or less. Regular and Honey Nut Cheerios contained 6 or 7 micrograms of the carcinogenic substance. Among the findings:


Acrylamide in Foods: Micrograms per Serving
Water, 8 oz., EPA limit0.12
Boiled Potatoes, 4 oz.<3
Old El Paso Taco Shells, 3, 1.1oz.1
Ore Ida French Fries (uncooked), 3 oz.5
Ore Ida French Fries (baked), 3 oz.28
Honey Nut Cheerios, 1 oz.6
Cheerios, 1 oz.7
Tostitos Tortilla Chips, 1 oz.5
Fritos Corn Chips, 1 oz.11
Pringles Potato Crisps, 1 oz.25
Wendy’s French Fries, Biggie, 5.6 oz.39
KFC Potato Wedges, Jumbo, 6.2 oz.52
Burger King French Fries, large, 5.7 oz.59
McDonald’s French Fries, large, 6.2 oz.82


The amount of acrylamide in a large order of fast-food French fries is at least 300 times more than what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency allows in a glass of water. Acrylamide is sometimes used in water-treatment facilities.

“I estimate that acrylamide causes several thousand cancers per year in Americans,” said Clark University research professor Dale Hattis. Hattis, an expert in risk analysis, based his estimate on standard EPA projections of risks from animal studies and limited sampling of acrylamide levels in Swedish and American foods.

Acrylamide forms as a result of unknown chemical reactions during high-temperature baking or frying. Raw or even boiled potatoes test negative for the chemical. CSPI today urged the FDA to inform the public of the risks from acrylamide in different foods, and to work with industry and academia to understand how acrylamide is formed and how to prevent its formation.

“There has long been reason for Americans to eat less greasy French fries and snack chips,” Jacobson said. “Acrylamide is yet another reason to eat less of those foods.”

A California attorney has formally demanded that McDonald’s and Burger King place a cancer warning on their French fries, as required by the state’s Proposition 65. Burger King faces a legal deadline of late June and McDonald’s of early July to respond.

*Data adjusted for different portion sizes on 9/4/02