Should You Be Worried About McDonald’s Giving You Cancer?

According to a few internet sources, McDonald’s packaging in California just underwent a makeover – supposedly, every meal is now served in a bag with a dire warning proclaiming that some of the food served at the restaurant may contain the carcinogen acrylamide. This includes potato products, hamburger buns, biscuits and coffee.

Pictures of the warning have been inspiring panic and anger as they make their way across blogs and social networking sites. It’s currently unclear whether the warning label is actually appearing on any packaging in California – although discussion about the label itself dates back to 2009, which seems to indicate it might be a hoax (or, at least, out-of-date).

Though the label is likely fake, it is true that McDonald’s food does contain acrylamide. What many don’t realize is that the FDA has been trying to educate the general public about acrylamide since its discovery in food in 2002. Acrylamide, as noted on the warning label itself, is a naturally-occurring substance which forms when food is browned, burned, or cooked for long periods at high temperatures.

Acrylamide forms most easily on potatoes and other plant-based food items. Potato chips and French fries are the worst offenders, but any charred or browned veggies are likely to have some amount of the chemical present. Coffee beans naturally form acrylamide during the roasting process. So far, some amount of the chemical in a normal diet seems to be unavoidable, and the FDA is recommending a few simple tips to help cut down on the amount of acrylamide in food, including soaking potatoes before frying, and browning potatoes and bread more lightly.

What does acrylamide even do in the body? The truth is, no one’s really sure. In the amounts found in food products, it may not pose a health risk at all. According to the National Cancer Institute, some studies have found that high levels of acrylamide exposure can increase the risk of developing various types of cancer — in rodents. Since humans absorb the chemical differently than rats, it’s unclear how dangerous acrylamide is to humans. Right now, the International Agency for Research on Cancer considers acrylamide to be a “probable human carcinogen.”

In industrial settings, it can definitely be dangerous. Acrylamide is used in coal preparation plants, water treatment facilities and paper production, and has been shown to cause neurological damage in exposed workers. It’s also found in cigarette smoke and may contribute to the development of lung cancer in smokers. However, most of the research that’s been done on dietary exposure to acrylamide has involved treating water with large amounts of the chemical — which doesn’t necessarily translate to the levels that might be found in a bag of potato chips.

The government approach to acrylamide has been fairly conservative. Until further research is completed, the FDA isn’t recommending that anyone cut fried, baked, or roasted veggies out of their diet – they don’t even really seem to be too concerned about reducing your intake. Instead, they encourage Americans to adopt a “healthy eating plan” that includes a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat or fat-free dairy, lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts. They also advise avoiding saturated and trans fats, cholesterol and high amounts of salt and sugar.

While the purported McDonald’s label does note that acrylamide is a natural substance, and refers customers to the FDA website for more information, this does come across as downplaying an alarming message, and is likely to be ignored by those who are determined to believe that McDonald’s is willfully inflicting cancer on consumers. (As well as those who don’t really care about the health impact of the food they’re eating.)

Now, none of this is meant to imply that fast food isn’t horrible for you. The high levels of fat and sodium alone are good reasons to avoid that Big Mac and fries. And more than one person has documented the troubling fact that McDonald’s hamburgers don’t appear to rot or spoil, ever, due to the amount of preservatives crammed into them. But if you’re worried about getting cancer from acrylamide, you’re going to have to avoid roasting, baking, frying, or toasting anything at home – and I can’t speak for anyone else, but as a foodie, a little risk here or there is a price I’m willing to pay.


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Photo by: Bee-side(s)


William C
William C10 months ago


W. C
W. C10 months ago

Thank you for the news.

Jim Ven
Jim Venabout a year ago

thanks for sharing.

Jim L.
Jim L.2 years ago

What's very concerning is the inhalation of a toxic substance like this. Taiwan has noticed a jump in lung cancer in women cooking with the same oil! Beware McDonald's employees.

Rob Johnson
rob Johnson4 years ago

Ok so I went to Mcdonalds today for the first time in months and I noticed a warning on both drive through windows saying that their food and/or drinks are known to the state of California, where I live, to cause cancer. I will not be eating there anymore. The fact that the FDA says not to cut back on fast food tells me to" Stop eating it completely". The FDA also said that artificial sweeteners are no concern. Oh, and our fine Government also told us years ago that DDT was safe. These products have been causing cancer and other illnesses in us for years. Remember your loved one whom died of cancer? I do. I'v had a few myself. Makes me wonder what really caused it now. These toxic ingredients need to be banned for ever.

Diane L.
Diane L5 years ago

Oh, BTW, soaking potatoes (after being peeled and cut up) before deep frying is NOT a good idea. If foods are wet when put into boiling oil, chances are that the oil will bubble up and the cook will face being seriously burned. Watch the videos showing how to "deep fry" a turkey.........they all show that the turkey should be dried off with a paper towel before emerging into the oil. Same goes for any foods. The first part of this article mentions the buns that McDonald's uses and also coffee? Okay, so I worked at McDonald's for a bit as a 2nd job. The buns are the same as one buys in any grocery store shelf. They vary from location to location, of course. The buns that a McDonald's in Washington State gets are probably not the same brand as what those in Florida gets. Coffee? Same thing, but McDonald's here serves Seattle's Best..........which also have shops everywhere and the product is sold on grocery store shelves EVERYWHERE.

Diane L.
Diane L5 years ago

(CONT)........I guess french fries could be addictive, and I have heard so is ice cream, chocolate and many other foods.

Why is McDonald's to blame for customers eating their product in excess? Maybe you'd suggest we have legislation to require them to have customers fill out a form stating how much of their food has been, sort of like a bar has the obligation to not over-serve those who are drinking alchohol? If one has bought more than 1 meal in a week there, they can't come back for "X" number of days? What if they buy one item a day for a week, or if a kids' soccer coach, 20 meals for the team in one day? Where do you draw the line?

Diane L.
Diane L5 years ago

Tamara, good points, but the bottom line is still that McDonalds doesn't GIVE anyone cancer, anymore than any other source of food. Nobody twists anyone's arm to eat at McDonald's. Susan's post has got to be as FAR OUT there as most..........McDonald's gets their potatoes from the same place the rest of us do and they're grown the same way for everyone. They don't spray potatoes destined for McDonald's with pesticides and not the rest. Get a grip. Unless you grown your own potatoes or buy ONLY organic potatoes, the exposure to chemicals will be "iffy". I know for fact that McDonald's gets most of their potatoes (frozen french fries)from J.R.Simplot in Moses Lake, Washington. That area is a major potato growing area..............Idaho is NOT the potato growing capital of the country, even though they claim to be. McDonald's employees (at the restaurant level) don't have the time to scrub and peel potatoes to make french fries. They're already peeled, cut into slices/pieces and flash-frozen long before. The employees in the restaurants have very limited exposure to the potatoes except ripping open plastic bags and dumping contents into a deep fryer. The peels of a root vegetable such as potatoes COULD be exposed to pesticides, but when peeled and cooked in a high heat, then issues would be minimal in that regard. The biggest problem is consuming a not-so-healthy food in the first place........french fries FRIED in oil. I guess french fries could be addictive, and I

Tamara T.
Tamara T.5 years ago

This is a reply to Seattle Ann S.
Actually people do develop food addictions from an early age as a result of being force fed. And its not always because they mindlessly eat, but because 2$ for a chicken sandwich and a sweet tea is the best they can do. When families cannot afford healthy food for their children, they result to cheaper, more unhealthy alternatives like the dollar menu. And to Debbie L, It's not that easy to say "just don't eat fast food" because some people are not in the best financial position to do so. And many of these people do understand how unhealthy the food is. Its living hell for them. I have seen so many people suffer from these addictions because it was all they knew and had their whole lives. And it's surely not something that can simply be resolved by word of mouth. It's just the sick and crazy world we live in and are forced to accept. I wish I could tell so many people not to eat fast food but I know that I would just sound foolish because their living arrangements cannot be altered just because I said so. Once again we just live in a sick world that no one person can change, or form an alliance to change it.

Erin M.
Erin M.5 years ago

You guys seem to ignore the fact that article said you can find the product in the foods you cook at home as well as eating out.