By Sophie Borland
A chemical which causes cancer has been found in a huge range of foods including bread, crisps and baby food.
Scientists have identified high levels in thousands of cooked and processed products.
The substance, acrylamide, has been linked to several types of cancer including bowel, bladder and kidney, and is known to cause infertility and loss of muscle control.
Scientists have known since 2002 that the chemical exists in certain products and have urged the food industry to reduce levels.
Experts are now urging food producers to take stronger action, and are advising the public to cut down on processed food and eat as much fresh produce as possible.
Scientists do not know exactly what causes acrylamide to form but they believe it occurs as a result of a chemical process during baking, frying, grilling or toasting.
It appears to form when food is heated to above 120c. It is not found in uncooked or boiled food.
It is also manufactured for industry and used to make asphalt, glue, dye, paper, fabric and cosmetics as well as to remove impurities in drinking water.
The EU’s European Food Safety Authority examined 22 different food groups known to contain high levels of acrylamide in 23 countries, including Britain, and compared levels recorded in 2007 and 2009.
It found despite the warnings, levels had increased in instant coffee and crispbread and remained the same in almost all the other products.
Levels had gone down only in crackers, baby biscuits and gingerbread. The report warns that voluntary measures by the food industry have had ‘limited success’ and concludes that further action is needed.
In 2008 the UK Food Standards Agency found high levels of acrylamide in a range of processed foods including Hula Hoops, Ryvita and Pringles.