Well-Done: Unsafe?

by MEAT&POULTRY Staff
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A new study links consumption of burned or charred pieces of meat to increased risk of pancreatic cancer – but the study’s lead author says she didn’t intend "to take all the fun out of barbecuing."

Dr. Kristen Anderson, an epidemiologist with the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota, told MEATPOULTRY.com that "we’re still trying to understand how this works." She said it’s been known for some time that particular carcinogens exist in meat, as they do in many other foods, "but the question is what causes them to react and how that’s relevant in meat."

Her study, which she presented at the recent meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research and which was based on a prospective analysis that included more than 62,500 participants, linked increased risk of pancreatic cancer to consumption of meats that had been well-cooked or over-cooked by frying, grilling or barbecuing. At the meeting, Dr. Kristen told her colleagues, "My research has been focused on pancreatic cancer for some time, and we want to identify ways to prevent this cancer because treatments are very limited and the cancer is often rapidly fatal."

Data was gathered over nine years. Subject who preferred very well done steak were almost 60 percent more likely to get pancreatic cancer than those who consumed their steak less well done or who didn’t eat steak at all. When overall consumption and doneness preferences were used to estimate the meat-derived carcinogen intake for subjects, subject who had the highest intake had 70 percent higher risk than those with the lowest intake.

Dr. Anderson, who told MEATPOULTRY.com that her husband "has a big Weber grill in the backyard," said the study has generated a lot of interest "because people relate to meat." Several of her colleagues, she added, have told her that she "had taken all the fun away."

But she’s not opposed to grilling, she said, just to eating burnt or charred meat. Her recommendations: "Lower the temperature. Use indirect heat. Wrap the meat in foil. Use marinades, and cut off the charred parts. You can cook food thoroughly without burning it." She also recommends microwaving meat for a couple of minutes and finishing the cooking on the grill. "That seems to reduce the number of dangerous compounds," she said.

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