Claim:   Pringles brand potato chips contain a chemical that is known to cause cancer in humans.


UNPROVEN


Example:   [Collected via e-mail, December 2014]


I read this story on Facebook today and wondering if true: It is titled Cancer in a can: the shocking true story of how Pringles are made.

 

Origins:   In 2013, a report started circulating on the Internet which claimed the snack food Pringles was causing cancer. While the report, frequently titled “Cancer in a Can: The Shocking True Story of How Pringles Are Made,” used facts from a 2007 scientific study, much of the information presented was misleading.

The primary claim put forth in the “Cancer in a Can” article was the chemical acrylamide, which is found in Pringles brand potato chips, causes cancer. This claim, however, is not entirely true.

The HEATOX project, a three-year study about the risk of acrylamide, found the chemical “might be a cancer risk factor” for humans. Rodents who were exposed to the carcinogen developed several different types of cancer, but research on how it affects humans is incomplete.

The National Cancer Institute stated the level of acrylamide in foods is a “major concern,” but also noted researchers do not know for certain if the chemical causes cancer in humans:



Scientists do not yet know with any certainty whether the levels of acrylamide typically found in some foods pose a health risk for humans…

Studies in rodent models have found that acrylamide exposure poses a risk for several types of cancer. However, the evidence from human studies is still incomplete. The National Toxicology Program and the International Agency for Research on Cancer consider acrylamide to be a “probable human carcinogen,” based on studies in laboratory animals given acrylamide in drinking water. However, toxicology studies have shown differences in acrylamide absorption rates between humans and rodents.


Furthermore, Pringles do not carry a higher risk than other foods containing acrylamide. According to the World Health Organization, acrylamide is naturally produced when certain foods (e.g., french fries, potato chips) are heated at temperatures higher than 120°C (248°F):



Acrylamide (C3H3ONH2) is a chemical that is produced naturally in certain foods when they are cooked at high temperatures. It is also manufactured industrially for use in the production of polyacrylamide gels, which are used for various purposes, including the treatment of drinking-water and wastewater. Acrylamide is known to cause cancer in animals and, in high doses, can cause nerve damage in humans.

It’s unclear how exactly Pringles got tied into this rumor about acrylamide and cancer, but it may have something to do with an October 2011 article titled “The shocking true story of how Pringles are made,” which had nothing to do with claims about Pringles containing acrylamide (or any other putative carcinogen) but rather with the fact they have precious little actual potato in them:



Instead of shaving bits off of a potato and deep frying them, the company starts with a slurry of rice, wheat, corn, and potato flakes and presses them into shape. So these potato chips aren’t really potato at all. The snack-dough is then rolled out like a sheet of ultra-thin cookie dough and cut into chip-cookies by a machine. The cut is complete enough that the chips are fully free of the extra dough, which is lifted away from the chips by a machine.

While some may not feel like eating Pringles after reading the “shocking truth” of how they are made, the National Cancer Institute maintains there is no acrylamide-related reason to stop eating potato chips or french fries:



Acrylamide levels in food vary widely depending on the manufacturer, the cooking time, and the method and temperature of the cooking process. The best advice at this time is to follow established dietary guidelines and eat a healthy, balanced diet that is low in fat and rich in high-fiber grains, fruits, and vegetables.

Last updated:   17 December 2014