The study is one of many launched worldwide to help processors and others lower the levels of acrylamide ending up in foods. The chemical is a carcinogen that is created when starchy foods are baked, roasted, fried or toasted. It first hit the headlines in 2002, when scientists at the Swedish Food Administration first reported unexpectedly high levels of acrylamide in carbohydrate-rich foods. Previous studies have linked the chemical with cancer in laboratory rats. Since the Swedish discovery a global effort has been underway to amass data about this chemical. More than 200 research projects have been initiated around the world, and their findings coordinated by national governments, the EU and the United Nations. Reducing acrylamide in foods industry wide can only help improve the public perception about food safety, which has suffered in recent years. The Confederation of Food and Drink Industries of the EU is also working with the European Commission and regulators to find ways to reduce acrylamide. In their paper, published in the current issue of the Journal of Food Protection, researchers E.K. Paleologos and M.G. Kontominas said they wanted to study the effect of processing and storage conditions on the generation of acrylamide. They used precooked breaded chicken products in the study. The generation of acrylamide was determined during frying and during cold storage of the breaded chicken products. They also evaluated the role of the batter crust in acrylamide formation. The effect of storage under a modified atmosphere on the fate of acrylamide was investigated during a 23-day storage period under refrigeration. Acrylamide was analyzed by using normal phase high-performance liquid chromatography according to a previously developed methodology. The methodology allows for dual identity verification as acrylamide and acrylic acid. The two analysed 28 commercial precooked samples. Initial acrylamide concentrations ranged between 0.91 mg per kg and 0.97 mg per kg. They attributed the levels to the combined effect of batter and meat. In all cases, acrylamide concentrations increased during storage, attaining a maximum ranging between 1.36 to 1.80 mg per kg between day 15 and day 19. The maximum value was observed in samples packaged under air, and the minimum value was observed under a modified atmosphere mixture of 60 per cent carbon dioxide and 40 per cent nitrogen. In this group, the maximum acrylamide concentration was reached after 19 days of storage. "These data indicate that there is a high concentration of acrylamide in precooked, battered protein foods and that the concentration changes considerably during storage, which may lead to almost twice the initial amounts when air is present within the package," the researchers stated. Little is known about acrylamide. However, it is thought to induce cancer in animals, damage nerves and impair male fertility. In April 2002, Swedish scientists produced results demonstrating disturbingly high levels of acrylamide in certain cooked foods, sparking off concerns among regulators and consumers. The European Commission responded to the findings by generating a database on all research activities. The World Health Organisation has additionally developed an international network of researchers. Diet is thought to contribute to about 30 per cent of some cancers and the increasing dependence on processed food means that research is essential. Acrylamide appears in a wide range of cooked foods - prepared industrially, in catering, or at home. The foods include bread, fried potatoes and coffee as well as specialty products like potato crisps, biscuits, crisp bread, and a range of other heat-processed products. Such products contain acrylamide at levels between a few parts per billion (ppb) to over 1000 ppb.