Years after the issue first emerged out of nowhere, questions about the effects of acrylamide in the diet remain a frightening threat to grain-based foods.

Worries about the compound began hovering as a concern in 2002 when researchers from the University of Stockholm published research indicating the presence of acrylamide, a suspected human carcinogen, at higher levels than thought safe in a wide range of foods and beverages. For instance, a bag of potato chips was found to contain up to 500 times more acrylamide than the maximum allowed in drinking water, based on World Health Organization standards. Many grain-based foods, including bread, also were found to contain high levels of acrylamide.

High doses of the chemical have caused cancer in rats, but studies on the carcinogenic effects for humans have been inconclusive. In 2002, health officials were quick to state that people should not change their eating habits based on the findings, but questions have lingered.

Public health officials in Canada recently began monitoring food products to gauge where consumers are being exposed to acrylamide, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is focusing on ways industry may reduce acrylamide content. Meanwhile, data from Financial Dynamics International, a communications consulting group, indicate "virtually no awareness or familiarity of acrylamide among U.S. consumers." Still, the group warns ominously that this state of awareness could change rapidly.

Curt Davies, an executive at F.D., said nearly half of consumers upon learning of the acrylamide issue are "likely to self-educate about acrylamide to learn more as well as alter food consumption and food purchasing decisions." Long awaited toxicological research on acrylamide will be published in October.

Baking needs to stay ahead of this issue aggressively while making sure government agencies do not allow regulations to get ahead of science.