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Process contaminants – Heterocyclic amines

What are HCAs?
This section will introduce you to a group of compounds called HCAs that are formed when food such as meat and fish are cooked to a very done state. These compounds are thought to contribute to an increased risk in cancer in those who consume too much of these foods. We will look at the chemical structure of these compounds and how they are formed during cooking. Some databases exist around the world providing data on the levels of HCAs found in cooked meats according to the cooking methods and how well done they’re cooked. The levels in diets are not measured in many countries and therefore we have very sparse data on population intakes worldwide.
Difficulties in trying to fill this gap in data is further compounded by the usual difficulties in measuring dietary intake accurately in humans. But also there are challenges in the laboratory in measuring these levels of these compounds. The levels of HCAs in foods are at a low level, as low as parts per billion, which provides technical challenges. Furthermore, extraction of these compounds from foods for analysis is cumbersome.
Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) are a group of chemical compounds that are produced when protein-rich muscle foods are cooked at high temperatures.
HCAs are mutagenic and suspected carcinogenic compounds that have been reported to increase the risk factor for human cancers.
This video will look at the source and structure of HCAs in more detail.
It is well recognised that the extent (i.e. temperature/time) of cooking of meat has an impact on the levels and types of HCAs formed.
  • Knowing this, would this affect your preference (i.e. rare/medium/well-done) for how you currently prepare meat?
  • Can you suggest cooking techniques (e.g. use of marinades) which may reduce the levels of HCA formation during cooking?
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Tackling Global Food Safety

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