Manufacturers may soon be able to cut acrylamide in potato products using a computer model which assesses levels of the potential carcinogen throughout the production process.
"We took a farm to fork approach - no one has looked at the whole process as one unit before," said the developer, Dublin University College researcher Dr Enda Cummins, who added that the model could perhaps be used with other food products in the future.
Acrylamide is the result of amino acids and reducing sugars reacting during cooking. The model looks at different types of potato, which have various levels of reducing sugars, and how these levels are affected by factors such as storage conditions, cooking time and heating temperature.
So far, the model, which uses probability distribution to estimate acrylamide levels, has analysed commercially produced and home-made French fries and potato crisps.
It was also used to calculate Ireland's consumer exposure levels, which revealed that French fries, the biggest single contributor of acrylamide consumption in the country, accounted for 0.27 micro grams per kilogram of body weight per day - less than a third of the World Health Organisation's recommended limit.
Applying the model to other products was "something we'll look at further down the line", said Cummins. "But the model would need to be adjusted to take account of amino acids, which are the main cause of acrylamide levels in cereal products."
Industry, governments and researchers worldwide have embarked on acrylamide reduction projects, following the discovery in April 2002 that the chemical formed naturally in the browning process.