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HEATOX — Result In Brief

Project ID: 506820
Funded under: FP6-FOOD
Country: Sweden

Turning up the heat on food

Cooking tends to destroy nutrients as well as microbes. A European project has investigated the other side of the coin, the production of unwelcome toxins.
Turning up the heat on food
Nutritionists often advocate eating raw food. However, heating food in an appropriate way confers many advantages – addition of colour, flavour and aroma. The 'Heat-generated food toxicants, identification, characterisation and risk minimisation' (Heatox) project focused on the health risk of toxin production on cooking.

Just some of the toxic products include acrylamide found in coffee and baked or fried food. The well publicised nitrites present in cured and preserved food convert to nitrosamines in the presence of protein and acid when heated. Advanced glycation end products (AGEs) are formed when protein is cooked with sugar in the absence of water. AGEs can cause nerve damage. Finally, when cooking with unsaturated oils, radicals can form on heating.

Heatox scientists aimed to identify innovative heating and cooking methods to minimise the formation of these toxins. Emphasis was placed on acrylamides although the researchers have pointed out that there is potentially a total of 52 compounds formed on heating that would pose a danger to health.

Activities of Heatox proved very comprehensive and were designed to reach all interested parties, from manufacturers to consumers. New processes were validated for food analysis and exposure biomarkers were identified. A database was developed for the heat-induced toxins based on the analyses of potatoes and baby foods as well as bread and baking processes.

Hazards to genetic, reproductive, neural development and carcinogenic potential were assessed. Using animal and human cell systems, gene and protein activity in cells and toxicogenomics, the researchers characterised the toxins at the molecular level. Using Monte Carlo simulations for risk analysis combined with hazards data, the associated risks of heat-treated carbohydrate food were characterised.

Heatox disseminated results on a European basis by developing a training schedule on probabilistic modelling for national organisations as well as the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the EU risk assessment body for food safety.

Wide dissemination of research results through publications, workshops and conferences will make sure that there is increased awareness of the dangers of heat-generated toxins. Restaurants, the food industry and of course the consumer are the prime targets.

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