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The Physicians Committee



New Study Exposes Cancer Risk in Grilled Chicken Meals at Leading Restaurants

A new PCRM study in Nutrition and Cancer: An International Journal found that grilled chicken items at leading chain restaurants are birds of a feather when it comes to increasing cancer risk. An analysis of 100 grilled chicken items from McDonald’s, Burger King, Chick-fil-A, Chili’s, Applebee’s, Outback Steakhouse, and T.G.I. Friday’s found that all contained PhIP, the most abundant of a group of carcinogens called heterocyclic amines (HCAs)—and the HCA likely to contribute most to overall cancer risk.

The results, compiled from independent laboratory tests commissioned by PCRM scientists, found that the levels of PhIP contained in grilled chicken entrées, many of which are considered “healthy” menu selections, could contribute significantly to a person’s total intake of carcinogens and may play a role in the development of breast, prostate, and other cancers.

“Grilled chicken is the largest source of PhIP, a potent carcinogen,” said Kristie M. Sullivan, M.P.H., a PCRM toxicologist who is the lead author of the new study. “We found this carcinogen in every single sample of grilled chicken taken from restaurants in every part of California.”

As Americans increase their consumption of grilled or barbequed chicken (from 43 percent of households surveyed in 1997 to 51 percent of households in 2003) and eat outside of the home an average 5.6 times a week, it’s especially important that they understand the cancer risks associated with the consumption of grilled chicken served in popular restaurants and fast-food chains.

The study found that all 100 samples of grilled chicken contained detectable levels of PhIP, which is found at particularly high levels in grilled and pan-fried chicken.

Chain

Item

PhIP Present

Applebee’s

Grilled Italian Chicken Caesar Salad
Honey-Grilled Chicken Entrée

YES

Burger King

Tendergrill Chicken Sandwich

YES

Chick-fil-A

Chargrilled Chicken Sandwich

YES

Chili’s

Grilled Caribbean Chicken Salad
Guiltless Chicken Platter Entrée

YES

McDonald’s

Grilled Chicken Salad—Caesar

YES

Outback Steakhouse

Chicken on the Barbie

YES

T.G.I. Friday’s

Cobb Salad with Grilled Chicken
Grilled Chicken Flavor Shots Entrée

YES

According to recent studies, 70 percent of U.S. dietary intake of HCAs is PhIP, which along with other HCAs, is formed from the creatinine, amino acids, and sugar found in muscle tissue and is produced by long cooking times and hot temperatures. As mutagens, HCAs can bind directly to DNA and cause mutations—the first step in cancer development.

Shorter cooking times may reduce HCA formation, but undercooking increases risk of foodborne illness. Simple steps, such as avoiding the consumption of grilled chicken in favor of plant-based protein sources, can reduce one’s cancer risk.

All samples for this study were collected in California, because California’s Proposition 65 states that consumers must be warned about products that contain known carcinogens. For more than a decade, PhIP has been on the California governor’s list of chemicals known to cause cancer. In 2006, PCRM went to court under California’s Proposition 65 to compel the seven restaurant chains to warn consumers about the carcinogens formed in their grilled chicken.

An abstract is available online at http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/content~content=a902434974~db=all~order=page.



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

PCRM Online, October 2008

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