eat an estimated two million tons of french fries every year, but that might change in light of a recent warning from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  The FDA released draft guidance this month with recommendations to growers, manufacturers, and food service operators to reduce acrylamide in certain foods. Acrylamide is a chemical that can form in plant-based foods—including potatoes, coffee, cereals, breads, crackers, and dried fruits—during high-temperature cooking processes like frying, roasting, and baking.

Scientists discovered acrylamide in foods in 2002, so research on the chemical is relatively new. The FDA states that "[a]crylamide forms in foods from a chemical reaction between asparagine, an amino acid, and reducing sugars such as glucose and fructose. This reaction is part of the Maillard reaction, which leads to color, flavor, and aroma changes in cooked foods." According to the Grocery Manufacturers Association, acrylamide is found in 40 percent of the calories consumed in the average American diet.

In 2010, the Joint Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization Expert Committee on Food Additives concluded that acrylamide may be a human health concern. High doses of acrylamide were found to cause cancer in animals, and some scientists believe that it may be a carcinogen for humans as well. Some critics have come out in defense of the Maillard reaction and brown foods.  Dr. John LaPuma, the head of Chef Clinic in California told the Wall Street Journal that "the amount of acrylamide you need to cause cancer in people is astronomical."

In addition to guidelines for food producers, the FDA has also included suggestions for consumers on how they can reduce the amount of acrylamide they consume. The agency has not called for a ban or suggested that consumers completely eliminate the chemical from their diets, but it does suggest that there could be benefits to cutting back. The FDA's recommendations include toasting bread to a light brown instead of a dark brown, cooking or frying fries to a golden yellow instead of brown, and not storing potatoes in the refrigerator. More information on acrylamide and reducing consumption of the chemical can be found in the FDA article acrylamide: information on diet, food storage, and food preparation.