You often hear common advices about not eating burned food because of the development of carcinogenic matter. Let's say a pizza that has been kept too long in the oven; not completely burned, but not fresh looking either. And even if you keep the recommended times to heat up the pizza, you often have black spots in the toppings, or the crust.

Burned pizza

Is there any reliable insight concerning the matter? I don't like too waste food, but it's a thing that really bugs me from time to time.

  • 1
    As I heard the story, the scientists who confirmed the presence of carcinogens on burned food happily ate the steaks they were using for the experiment. :-)
    – Carey Gregory
    Mar 3, 2016 at 2:40

1 Answer 1



Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are chemicals formed when muscle meat, including beef, pork, fish, or poultry, is cooked using high-temperature methods, such as pan frying or grilling directly over an open flame

These chemicals are found to be mutagenic and may increase the risk of cancer.

From the same article, things that influence how much HCA's and PAH's are:

  • meat type

  • cooking method

  • "doneness” level (rare, medium, or well done)

Whatever the type of meat, however, meats cooked at high temperatures, especially above 300ºF (as in grilling or pan frying), or that are cooked for a long time tend to form more HCAs. For example, well done, grilled, or barbecued chicken and steak all have high concentrations of HCAs. Cooking methods that expose meat to smoke or charring contribute to PAH formation

For bioactivation the HCA'S and PAH's need to be metabolized by specific enzymes in the body. While:

Studies have shown that exposure to HCAs and PAHs can cause cancer in animal models

Population studies have not established a definitive link between HCA and PAH exposure from cooked meats and cancer in humans

Additional highlights:

  • More research is being done

  • No official FDA guidelines are available

  • The cancer.gov article did give some tips on how to reduce HCA and PAH formation when cooking

  • Better Health Websites

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