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The Physicians Committee



Carcinogen Found in KFC’s New Grilled Chicken

KFC calls its new Kentucky Grilled Chicken “the better-for-you chicken for health-conscious customers.” But recent PCRM tests of the new grilled chicken revealed substantial amounts of a carcinogenic chemical in all samples tested.

grilling chickenA PCRM scientist visited six different KFC stores, obtained two samples from each location, and sent them to an independent testing laboratory. All 12 samples were found to contain PhIP, a chemical classified as a carcinogen by the federal government. PhIP, part of a chemical family known as heterocyclic amines (HCAs), has been linked to several forms of cancer, including breast cancer, in dozens of scientific studies. No safe level of ingestion has been identified. Every sample also tested positive for at least one additional type of HCA.

The new KFC grilled chicken products were the focus of a controversial promotion by Oprah Winfrey, who offered coupons for free Kentucky Grilled Chicken meals on her Web site. PCRM has alerted Ms. Winfrey to these findings.

“Just as the fat and cholesterol in fried chicken have prompted concerns about heart attacks and obesity, the carcinogenic chemicals found in Kentucky Grilled Chicken raise serious concerns about cancer risk,” said Kristie Sullivan, M.P.H., a PCRM toxicologist. “No parent would knowingly serve carcinogens to a child, and parents have no idea these chemicals are in KFC products. We are asking KFC to withdraw Kentucky Grilled Chicken.”

PhIP and other HCAs do not exist naturally in chicken; they form when animal muscle is cooked to high temperatures. The National Toxicology Program administered by the National Institutes of Health has identified PhIP as carcinogenic, as have the state of California and the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

But KFC is not the only restaurant serving carcinogen-containing grilled chicken. Last year, PCRM filed suit against McDonald’s, Chick-fil-A, Chili’s, T.G.I. Friday’s, Outback Steakhouse, Burger King, and Applebee’s for knowingly exposing customers to PhIP without warning them of its risks. The suit was brought under California’s Proposition 65, which states that consumers must be warned about products that contain known carcinogens.

The lawsuit is based on tests that found PhIP in 100 grilled chicken samples from the seven restaurant chains. The findings, compiled from independent laboratory tests commissioned by PCRM scientists, were published in the September 2008 issue of Nutrition and Cancer.

Burger King was the first of the restaurants to settle the lawsuit. As part of its agreement with PCRM, Burger King has posted warning signs in its California restaurants to alert customers that its grilled chicken products contain PhIP.

But the other six defendants that continue to fight the lawsuit—and KFC—have yet to inform customers about the cancer-causing chemicals in their grilled chicken products.

Visit PCRM.org/Health to learn more about grilled chicken and PhIP.



Kristie Sullivan, M.P.H.
Kristie Sullivan, M.P.H.


PCRM Online, June 2009

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