Saving the French Fry: Using Laboratory Informatics to Keep Fried Foods Non-Toxic

Laboratory informatics can help eliminate the cancer risk posed by fried foods.
Can laboratory informatics eliminate the cancer risk posed by French fries?
Image source: Flickr CC user Hungry Dudes

Who doesn’t love a well-done French fry? Perfectly cut into strips, fried to golden brown perfection. Is it unhealthy for you? Sure, but that’s part of its charm. You know it’s not good for you, but you make the decision to eat it anyway.

But watch out, French fry lovers! We’ve run into a problem. In 2002, French fries were linked to acrylamide, which is shown to cause cancer in animals, as well as being a known neurotoxin in humans.1 In fact, occupational exposure to acrylamide is associated with pancreatic cancer and digestive tract tumors. And we’re ingesting it via French fries? Yikes!

It’s not just French fries. Acrylamide can be found in potatoes, other root vegetables, and grains. That means in addition to fries, it’s also in potato chips, bread, coffee, cereal, and cookies. Talk about ubiquitous! Broken down further, French fries and potatoes account for 38% of the acrylamide found in the average diet while the remaining foodstuffs make up another 25%.2

How does acrylamide show up in our food? Simple. In the presence of sugar, the amino acid asparagine is converted to acrylamide when heated to high temperatures such as through frying, toasting or broiling.3 Because of this, the FDA put out a suggestion to reduce acrylamide intake at home by frying less or to toast bread to light rather than dark.

How Laboratory Informatics Can Help Find a Healthier Potato

The potato industry isn’t taking this news lying down. Can you imagine the chaos if we completely eliminated French fries from our diet? Not only do health fanatics rely on it as a food option on cheat days (guilty), but consider all of the fast food-loving children and teens! We’d have a revolt on our hands.

In 2008, some companies agreed to reduce acrylamide in their products and 2011 saw the launch of the National Fry Processing Trial (NFPT). We’ve previously discussed how genetically-modified crops can benefit the food industry and that’s exactly the approach the potato industry is taking here. The NFPT is a breeding program that tests new crop varieties for lower acrylamide levels. It uses genetic engineering to study how acrylamide is formed and to reduce its presence in cooked potatoes.

The concept is surprisingly simple. Acrylamide is formed when amino acids react to sugars at high temperatures. Therefore, it makes sense to reduce the sugars present in potatoes. If there’s less sugar, there’s less of it to react with asparagine. So far, this tactic has displayed a successful decrease of acrylamide by 85-90%.

Making Sure Healthy Potatoes are Tasty through Laboratory Informatics

Taste and texture matter a lot to consumers, and especially French fry connoisseurs, though. Remember when McDonald’s changed the oil they used to cook French fries? Everyone noticed.

Over a hundred potato varieties are being studied by the NFPT. That’s a lot of information to keep track of. Not only do you need to keep track of acrylamide levels in the cooked potatoes, but you also need to make sure the variety is still edible. Does it still taste good fried? Reducing the amount of sugar is bound to have an effect.

With a laboratory informatics system, you have access to a variety of tools that can help your research. It allows your research team to manage experimental data effectively. It can both search and analyze, letting you visualize information in the manner best suited for you. Because this type of research can be repetitive, using similar protocols for different varieties, a good laboratory informatics system also improves experiment management and collaboration. At least one research team has already announced that a low-acrylamide potato is ready for commercial use. With a laboratory informatics system in place, other research teams can match that pace and release crop varieties of their own.

Is your food and beverage company interested in a laboratory informatics system that can help your R&D section manage its innovative research? Then please contact us today to learn more about BIOVIA Experiment Knowledge Base.

  1. “Remember ‘French Fries Cause Cancer’? Here’s the Acrylamide Update,” November 21, 2013, http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2013/11/19/246188051/remember-death-by-french-fries-here-s-the-story
  2. “Scientists work to make crispy, tasty fried potatoes a little healthier,” August 11, 2015, http://www.jsonline.com/news/health/scientists-work-to-make-crispy-tasty-fried-potatoes-a-little-healthier-b99549584z1-321403771.html
  3. “So What About That Acrylamide in Your French Fries,” November 19, 2014, http://www.forbes.com/sites/elaineschattner/2014/11/19/so-what-about-the-acrylamide-in-your-french-fries/

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