How RICE may cause cancer: Traces of arsenic are found on grains sold in UK shops – but cooking it in a coffee percolator removes the risk, say scientists
- Arsenic is getting into rice from old industrial pesticides, experts warn
- Rice products in the UK found to contain levels damaging to children
- Exposure can lead to health conditions including lung and bladder cancers
- Scientists in Belfast found steam in coffee percolator decontaminates it
Parents have been advised to change the way they cook rice in order to flush out traces of the poison arsenic.
The chemical gets into the rice as a result of industrial contaminants and pesticides that were used in the past and can remain in the flooded paddy fields where the rice is grown for decades.
British researchers have found the contaminant in rice and rice products sold in this country at levels that could pose a health risk to children.
Risk: traces of arsenic have been found in rice being sold in the UK as a result of old industrial contaminants and pesticides
Now, they have discovered that cooking rice in a coffee percolator, rather than a pan, successfully flushes away up to 85per cent of the poison.
The European Commission is currently drawing up new safety limits that will reduce the amount of arsenic permitted in rice and rice products.
However, academics at Queens University in Belfast say families can take proactive action to protect children by using the coffee percolation method for cooking.
Britain’s leading expert on rice and contamination, Andy Meharg, the professor of plant and soil sciences at the university, prevented his own children from eating some rice products because of the arsenic levels.
Typically, rice has ten times more inorganic arsenic than other foods and the European Food Standards Authority has reported that people who eat a lot are exposed to worrying concentrations.
Chronic exposure can cause a range of health problems including developmental problems, heart disease, diabetes and nervous system damage. However, most worrying are lung and bladder cancers.
Professor Meharg said the current method for cooking rice, essentially boiling it in a pan until it soaks up all the liquid, binds into place any arsenic contained in the rice and the cooking water.
By contrast, cooking it in a coffee percolator allows the steaming hot water to drip through the rice, washing away contaminants. There was a 57per cent reduction in arsenic with a ratio of 12 parts of water to one of rice and in some cases as much as 85per cent.
Coffee filter: Parents are being advised to change the way they cook rice, with the steam from percolators found to decontaminate it
Prof Meharg, whose study findings are reported in the journal PLoS ONE (correct), said: ‘We just took something that’s in everybody’s kitchen and applied it to show a principle.
‘We discovered that by using percolating technology, where cooking water is continually passed through rice in a constant flow, we could maximise removal of arsenic.
‘This is a very significant breakthrough as this offers an immediate solution to decreasing inorganic arsenic in the diet.’
The Belfast team are investigating using the discovery to create new types of rice cookers that will reduce all contaminants, which can also include lead. These would be particularly useful in countries like Bangladesh where both the rice and water can be contaminated.
Queen’s is seeking a patent for its rice cooking percolation system, which, it said: ‘means consumers could soon have this technology in their own kitchen’.
Tests carried out by the university last year found that 47 out of 81 rice products sold in the UK had higher levels of arsenic than the EU’s new tighter limits, which are due to come into effect next summer.
These included popular breakfast cereals and products designed for babies and toddlers.
The levels of arsenic in rice vary by type, country of production and growing conditions. Generally, brown rice has higher levels because the arsenic is found in the outer coating or bran, which is removed in the milling process to produce white rice.
Higher levels have also been found in rice milk with the result the Food Standards Agency advises parents not to give it to young children.
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