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Food and Nutrition

Food-Processing-Induced Chemicals

Undesirable chemicals can be formed in certain foods during processing as a result of reactions between compounds that are natural components of the food. In some cases an undesirable chemical may be formed as a result of a food additive being intentionally added to food and reacting with another compound in the food. When foods are heat-processed (baked, deep-fried, etc.), there are reactions that occur between components of the food, resulting in the desired flavour, appearance and texture of the food. However, some of these reactions can lead to the production of undesirable compounds. Similarly, certain storage or processing conditions may allow reactions to occur that otherwise would not. These reactions could generate potentially harmful compounds. Such chemicals can be collectively referred to as food-processing-induced chemicals. Some of these chemical reactions involve naturally-occurring components in the food, while other reactions may involve food additives, ingredients, or food packaging materials that were intentionally used.

In many cases, the presence of processing-induced chemicals in food cannot be avoided; however, understanding the processes by which these products are formed can allow us to optimize or adjust food preparation methods, formulae or processes, thereby reducing or eliminating the formation of such chemicals.

Examples of food-processing induced chemicals include:

What is Health Canada Doing?

Health Canada assesses the risks posed to Canadians by chemicals, such as food-processing-induced chemicals, in food. In support of these risk assessment activities, scientists develop and use analytical methods to measure the concentrations of certain food-processing induced chemicals in foods; they research and evaluate the toxicity of these compounds, and participate in international assessments of these chemicals. Health Canada scientists conduct research to understand the processes by which these products are formed so that the formation of such chemicals can be reduced or, where possible, eliminated. When necessary, Health Canada sets maximum levels for chemicals in foods.

What Can You do?

Health Canada has provided advice on reducing exposure to acrylamide. The advice may be viewed by clicking on the Acrylamide link listed above and in the Topics Box. Specific advice has not been issued for other food-processing induced chemicals. Health Canada recommends that Canadians consume a variety of foods from each food group included in Eating Well with Canada's Food Guide.

With the development of research in food, Health Canada will continue to provide Canadians with guidance, allowing Canada to limit the occurrence of food-processing-induced chemicals.