August 4, 2008

Cancer Causing Potato Chips Get Healthy

Don't feel quite so bad next time you crunch down on a bag of potato chips, they're now a little healthier thanks to a food manufacturers agreement to cut down on a cancer-causing chemical.

The California state attorney general's office announced the settlement Friday, between four food companies.

California sued H.J. Heinz Co., Frito-Lay, Kettle Foods Inc., and Lance Inc. in 2005, alleging they violated a state requirement that companies post warning labels on products with carcinogens.

The companies did not go to trial, they instead agreed to pay a combined $3 million in fines and reduce the levels of acrylamide in their products over three years, officials said.

"Other companies should follow this lead," Attorney General Jerry Brown said, calling the settlement "a victory for public health."

The Food and Drug Administration is currently researching if acrylamide in food poses a health risk.

Scientists say acrylamide forms naturally when starchy foods are baked or fried. Studies have also shown the chemical causes cancer in lab animals and nerve damage to workers who are exposed to high levels.

"Everybody's trying to figure out how to lower levels (of acrylamide) without significantly, adversely affecting taste," said Michele Corish, an attorney for Lance, which produces Cape Cod chips.

Corish said the modified snacks will be available nationwide.

California said the levels of acrylamide in most Cape Cod chips are already close to the compliance level as defined by the settlement.

Brown said Cape Cod Robust Russets contain 25 times the acceptable amount, but they are no longer being sold.

Frito-Lay, which is owned by PepsiCo Inc. and produces most of the chips sold in California, will pay $1.5 million and chipmaker Kettle Foods will pay $350,000 in penalties. Heinz, which produces frozen fries and tater tots, agreed to pay $600,000. Lance will pay $95,000, according to the terms of the settlement.

In 2005, the state also sued McDonald's Corp.; Wendy's International Inc.; Burger King Corp.; KFC, a subsidiary of Yum Brands Inc.; and Procter & Gamble Co. over acrylamide levels.

After the companies agreed to either properly label their products or lower levels of the chemical, those lawsuits were settled and did not go to court.