Leading toxicology experts will gather in Rome this month to discuss the latest research on the toxicity of acrylamide in food.
The risk posed by food contaminated with acrylamide, which was discovered in fried and baked starchy foods by Swedish researchers in 2002, is still unknown.
The latest research on the matter will be presented at the 64th meeting of the Joint Food and Agriculture Organisation/World Health Organisation Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), which takes place on February 9-17.
The meeting is expected to consider a survey of UK consumers' exposure to acrylamide, published by the Food Standards Agency last month. The survey showed that the amount of acrylamide being eaten was on average "1,000 times lower" than those doses reported to cause cancer in laboratory rats.
The survey revealed that baked or fried cereal-based products and potatoes were the main sources of the contaminant, but smaller amounts were also found in meat and poultry, sugars, preserves and chocolate.
Similar exposures have been found in surveys in other countries including Sweden, the Netherlands and Australia. It is still not known whether the average levels found (0.3-0.8micrograms/kg body weight/day) are a health risk.
Research into methods of reducing the formation of the carcinogen during food production is still under way. Studies include investigation of the effects of reducing cooking temperatures and the use of different cereal and potato varieties.