Acrylamide and Food: a shocking revelation

Not that long ago in a ‘What’s on your mind’ Facebook post I recalled how as a boy many years ago in Toronto I happily walked several blocks along Queen Street West every Friday evening to get classic, always delicious, take-out fish and chips for our family dinner. I also remembered the best French fries ever were to be found at the nearby Sunnyside amusement park, now long gone to make way for the Gardiner Expressway.

Since then, it’s fair to say I’ve consumed a lot of restaurant fries over the years with burgers, toasted, three-decker, club sandwiches, as well as home-fried potatoes, in restaurant and home.

Feel free to check that box yourself, figuratively speaking, if the same holds true.

And then there’s the long-standing pleasure in more recent years, of baking my own bread – lately, a light rye specialty – and pizza crust, squash pies, and experimental, ‘necessity’ (Whatever ingredients are handy) muffins, so long as maple syrup is the key ingredient.

Have I ever left the bread in the oven too long, so the crust is thick and dark, and enjoyed it anyway with homemade soup? Yep, been there, done that.

So, to say the least, I was shocked to discover recently I may have been putting my health seriously at risk all that time by eating a lot of fried (deep-fried especially) and oven-baked food like bread and roast potatoes; and many other things store-bought, like potato chips, crackers and cookies. The list, as it turns out now, is very long.

It’s about acrylamide, also called, acrylic amide, an organic compound widely used, and government regulated, in industry for a wide variety of products and purposes, including water treatment.

However, it has only been since 2002 when, first in Sweden, concerns were raised about acrylamide’s presence in food processed or cooked at temperatures in excess of 120 degrees Celsius (248 Fahrenheit).

Since then, public health agencies in the European Union, the U.S. and Canada have been in the forefront of efforts to learn more about the risk to human health. The U.N and the World Health Organization are also involved. Studies involving mice and rats being given high levels of acrylamide, have shown it causes cancerous tumors. That has led to it being officially described a “probable” cause of cancer for humans; but more human-based studies are needed to be certain, the various health agencies stress

Meanwhile, in an abundance of caution, they have offered advice, suggesting people stop eating deep-fried potatoes, turn down the temperature where possible and not bake or toast bread beyond ‘golden brown,’ instead of dark brown; and definitely don’t eat burnt baking products, from store or home. Potato chips are among the foods with highest levels of acrylamide, and, shockingly, many baby foods listed in Health Canada’s monitoring.

A fresh batch of ‘golden’ buns, temp. 375 F instead of 400

Even coffee is suspect, because of the roasting of coffee beans: light or medium is better than dark, or give coffee up entirely. Oh, no, not my morning coffee! That’s a tough one.

Health Canada’s summary, Acrylamide and Food, is one of the best and most readable documents on the issue I came across online. The same agency’s Revised Exposure Assessment of Acrylamide in Food’ and, the long list (Appendix 1) of branded, food products gathered and tested for acrylamide levels is important and revealing for people to know. (If there are problems with the links, google ‘Health Canada Acrylamide and Food,’ and ‘Health Canada, Revised Exposure Assessment of Acrylamide in Food.’) My only criticism of the latter is there needs to be more explanation of the PPB numbers, and symbols and how they pertain to the daily, body-weight impact of acrylamide.

The other comment I have is to what extent this important information about food and public health has reached, well, the public. I follow the daily news closely, I thought, and I’m sure there are Canadians and others around the world who are aware of the concerns about acrylamide in food; but I only found about it accidentally, while researching potatoes for other reasons, and the article I was reading happened to mention it.

There’s lots of troubling news ongoing that gets covered like a blanket: the political situation in the U.S., for one, and the war in Ukraine; but surely the possibility so many of the foods we – billions of us – routinely eat or drink every day may contain a compound that causes cancer, is as important as anything.

Finally, there appears to have been a relative lack of updated information in recent years since the initial flurry after 2002. For example, Canada Health’s Revised Exposure Assessment dates from 2012. Many of its related articles on the topic are already archived. Hopefully, that doesn’t reflect a lack of a sense of urgency.

Sometimes I wonder about the toxicity of the world we live in, the food we eat, the way it’s grown and processed, and what strikes me – yes, anecdotally – as the cancerous result when so many people I know, or know of, are getting sick.

The Herb Rosemary added to your bread dough will lower the level of acrylamide substantially’

A winter blessing: not old after all


Though it’s late in coming, there’s nothing like the onset of something that resembles a good, old-fashioned Canada winter to test the myths and realities of growing old.

Let’s just say I’ve reached a certain age, well beyond the date when I officially became a ‘senior,’ and became eligible for what’s still called here in Canada, “Old Age Security.”

It’s not that I mind the money. I’m far from being a rich man, financially, anyway. But there’s something fundamentally wrong with sticking the “old age” label on someone at 65, or older, or at all, when they’re not old, not really.

When I was 65, I was still a young man. I could still keep up, and more, with guys half my age. I was still going strong at 70, and even, well, older than that. It’s only been in the last year that I’ve finally had to face up to slowing down to the extent that it may, just may, be time to say, yeah, okay, “I guess I’m old.”

December and January were unusually easy months, as Canadian winters go here on the peninsula between Lake Huron and Georgian Bay. What happened to those lake-effect, ‘zero visibility,’ early-winter snow squalls? Well, it’s early February and they’re happening now, for the past couple of days, and forecast to keep happening into next week.

Just now, I look out my window and it’s coming down at a rate that could see another 10 to 15 centimeters, or more tonight.

And that means, again tomorrow morning it won’t be time to sit back and think about growing old: it will be time, like this morning, to rise to the occasion, fire up the tractor and the snowblower, clear my long, country driveway; then climb up on that too-old, home-built garage roof and finish clearing the snow off it so it won’t collapse under the weight. And then there’s that other, low-sloped roof I’m not all that secure about and would rather not take a chance and let the snow pile up. Better safe than sorry.

Actually, it’s more than safety; it’s survival. So many big and little things in secluded, rural living can turn into a big, survival problem if you don’t give them their due: a loose bolt on the snowblower tightened, chain and auger mechanisms greased; fresh gas for the generator in case of a power-outage; diesel fuel in reserve, a spare key for the tractor, and careful usage. They’re family, after all, Mr. Massey and now Mr. Massey Too.

I count it a blessing that winter and its challenges have arrived, and I am still up to meeting them.

Still not ‘old,’ not really.


And now for some good news


Far be it from me to traffic in dangerously unrealistic comments and other false hopes about the current Coronavirus (Covid-19) crisis. But for what it’s worth, regarding the lifting of essential spirits, I humbly say the following:

The garlic is up, here at the end of Cathedral Drive, Hope Ness. Just an inch or so, mind you; and a little touched by frost at the tip. But garlic is tough. It will survive. It already has. Continue reading

Heart and Brain health walk hand-in-hand


A couple of old guys staying young at heart

A news item caught my eye earlier this week. It should have been big news more than a month ago wherever an aging population and the onset of dementia is a growing socio-economic problem; like Canada, for example. But it wasn’t.

Later on-line searches revealed there was a sprinkling of mainstream news coverage. But I follow the daily news pretty closely, and it never was among the top stories. Too bad. If you’re a senior, as I am, or middle-aged – or any age, for that matter — the results of a lengthy on-line study in Sweden are something you should know.

And take to heart, literally. Continue reading

No way to treat a friend

There’s nothing like a wall, real or virtual, to make a point about the promise to “Make America Great Again” even if it means offending an entire nation on its southern border, or hitting your best friend and ally to the north with a sucker punch.

Even the giant U.S. aircraft maker, Boeing, was surprised by the 220 percent “anti-dumping” tariff the U.S. Commerce department recently inflicted on the prospective sale of Bombardier’s new C-Series passenger jets to Delta Airlines.


Two, beautiful, Canadian-made Bombardier C-Series passenger jets

Bombardier is a Canadian company that has signed a deal with Delta Airlines in the U.S. for the sale of 75 of Bombardier’s new C-series, 100-passenger jets. Delivery was supposed to begin in 2018. But Boeing said the jets were being sold below cost with the help of Canadian and Quebec government subsidies, and asked the U.S. Commerce department to investigate. The protectionist administration of President Donald Trump was only too happy to oblige, and then some. Continue reading



Anyone who says that life matters less to animals than it does to us has not held in his hands an animal fighting for its life. The whole of the being of the animal is thrown into that fight, without reserve.” (Elisabeth Costello, in J. M. Coetzee’s The Lives of Animals)

I had just left Owen Sound and was on my way home after the weekly trip to run a few errands and do some shopping when I first heard the news about an animal rights group having released a video of alleged abuse of chickens at a poultry factory-farm near Chilliwack, B.C.

The radio-news report said the alleged abuse involved people hired as “chicken catchers” to gather up chickens, and pack them in shelves of plastic cages for shipment by truck to plants for slaughtering and further processing.

Before he continued the CBC reporter warned the description of the details might be difficult for some people to hear. And so they were. Continue reading

On growing old, and the health care crisis

agingFirst, full disclosure: I am a senior. I have been for more than a few years. I am also the main caregiver of a much older, beloved family member. For some months now we have appreciated the help of the Community Care Access Center (CCAC) in Owen Sound, and the Personal Support Workers (PSWs), visiting nurses and other medical professionals who come to our home. Their genuinely caring attitude has been an important part of the homecare help they provide.

This first-hand experience with the homecare services offered by the Ontario government has been a continuing learning experience. I have, for example, noted with interest that in difficult negotiations with the federal government the provinces and territories have asked for more health care money, in large part to help cover the increasing costs of homecare. Continue reading

Seniors’ and children’s use of food banks rising

A set of shelves near the entrance to the village grocery store caught my eye this week as I stood in line at the check-out. It was filled on several levels with ready-packed bags of non-perishable food customers could purchase to donate to the local food bank.

That image alone said a lot about the need in and around the small Bruce Peninsula village, a need reflected elsewhere in the Grey-Bruce, Owen Sound area, throughout Ontario, and across Canada.

Coincidentally, just the day before I had heard one of the leading stories of that day, about the continuing high number of people in Ontario and across Canada who have to go to food banks because they can’t afford the cost of such a basic need as food.

Not to diminish the pain of hunger anyone on their own is suffering through, but that there are thousands of children in Canada who would be going hungry without vital access to a local food bank is surely a national disgrace. Continue reading

Bucket challenge good for ALS awareness

I’m technically challenged. I don’t tweet on twitter. I also don’t upload personal videos onto YouTube though we often joke about the humorous opportunities to “go viral” that have been missed in recent years. The talking dogs, for example.

So, it’s unlikely I’ll ever take the Ice Bucket Challenge and join the multi-millions of people doing it, or not doing it, to raise money for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) research.

How the Challenge works is a bit confusing. After all, the phenomenon just sort of took off on social media earlier this summer without any clear organizational structure. An article about it on Wikipedia, the on-line encyclopedia, says the “rules” are that anyone challenged to pour a bucket of ice water poured over their head has the option to decline and donate $100 to charitable organizations funding research to learn more about the fatal, degenerative, neurological disorder; or they can accept the challenge, have themselves videotaped doing it, and donate $10. But most people are donating $100 or more regardless.

Continue reading