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Acrylamide - pathogenic deep-frying product

  1. Many people are aware that organic matter can be both good and bad for the human body. For example, L-ascorbic acid (vitamin C) is a well-known substance known for its positive effect in fighting infections, and hydrogen cyanide (HCN) is known as a 'silent killer'. What many people do not know is that another harmful organic substance is consumed en masse, with dire consequences for the body. What is this substance, how is it made and how can consumption be reduced?

What is acrylamide?

  1. Acrylamide, also known as 1-oxoprop-2-enamide (Figure 1) according to the chemical name, is an organic molecule consisting of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen atoms. Acrylamide has many uses because of the double bond it possesses: this double bond makes it possible to form a polymer (type of plastic) for products such as contact lenses. Due to the presence of the amide group (-NH 2 group), this molecule is easily dissolved in water.

Hazards from acrylamide

  1. Despite the fact that acrylamide has many applications in the chemical industry, it is a dangerous molecule. US studies (Dearfield, 1988; Dearfield, 1995; Friedman, 2006) showed tumor development when animals were exposed to high levels of acrylamide in their drinking water. Partly because acrylamide is also used in the treatment of wastewater (and because acrylamide dissolves well in water), this is a risk for people, who can also be exposed to acrylamide. Usually, the concentration of acrylamide in drinking water is negligible, eliminating this risk. Yet there are also other ways to absorb acrylamide.

Sources of acrylamide

  1. Some unexpected sources of acrylamide are a workplace, a smoker and the deep fryer. At work, people can come into direct contact with acrylamide as it can be a raw material for a product, while in a smoker or deep fat fryer, acrylamide can enter the body in a more subtle way.

Acrylamide from a smoker

  1. Cigarettes contain a lot of harmful substances; some examples of this are the mentioned hydrogen cyanide (deadly at low concentrations), polonium, lead, cadmium, stearic acid (candle wax), methanol (dazzles, makes people die in a coma) and benzene (one of the main components of car fuel), all substances that are lethal and / or carcinogenic. Tobacco also contains an amount of acrylamide, according to a 2011 study (Moldoveanu and Gerardi). This means that not only the smoker is exposed to acrylamide, but also those who ingest the smoke through respiration. For example, a collection of carcinogenic substances is indirectly distributed to non-smokers.

Acrylamide in a deep fryer

  1. This is perhaps the most 'conventional' way in which people ingest acrylamide. An evening snack often means turning on the deep fryer. The snacks that are produced are tasty, but also contain a significant concentration of acrylamide. According to a study, this is due to the heat of the deep fryer: the amount of thermal energy (energy from temperature) is sufficient to convert the free amino acids and glycerol in the potatoes into acrylamide. A common temperature at which humans fry is 180 ° C, but this is more than enough energy to form acrylamide, causing an increased concentration of acrylamide in the fried food. This is a health threat as elevated levels are suspected of causing cancer in humans. In addition, no significant difference was found in the concentrations of acrylamide in deep-frying that operate on oil or air.

Acrylamide at work

  1. At work, acrylamide is only found in the chemical sectors: the production of plastics, paper, water purification, food treatment and cosmetics are some examples of industries that are more exposed to acrylamide than other industries.

How can acrylamide intake be reduced?

  1. The intake of acrylamide can be reduced by working accurately and consistently when it comes to a chemically hazardous situation. For example, the production of acrylamide is exponential as soon as temperatures exceed 180 ° C. Setting the deep fryer to 175, 170 or even 165 ° C lowers the concentration of acrylamide in the food, without any significant loss of crispness. In addition, lowering the temperature is financially beneficial and environmentally conscious: less energy is used, which benefits nature, but also saves energy bills. Another way to cut down on intake is to accompany a smoker at a distance, or not at all, once they light a cigarette. By keeping the distance and choosing the location so that the wind blows away a person's smoke, the amount of acrylamide (and other carcinogenic substances) ingested can be reduced. At work, the amount of acrylamide ingested is difficult to limit: often safety measures are already taken for this, such as masks or molecular mouthguards. The only thing a person can undertake on his own in such a situation is to avoid or keep a distance from sources of acrylamide. Because acrylamide can also be absorbed dermally, nitrile or butyl rubber gloves would also be a way to limit the intake.

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