Emma from Sydney, New South Wales, Australia asked:

Can burnt meat give you cancer?

Are there risks associated with eating burnt meat, especially charred steak and sausages on the BBQ?

Our answer

Some research suggests that burnt or charred meat may increase the risk of cancer. Substances called heterocyclic amines are formed in foods that are cooked at high temperatures and blackened or charred. In animal studies, heterocyclic amines are carcinogenic (cancer causing). However, the evidence in human studies is not clear. Eating one charred sausage is unlikely to cause cancer, however we suggest avoiding burnt meat if you can. We recommend not overcooking or blackening meat on the barbecue. Marinating meat first helps prevent foods from charring. As well as keeping potential cancer causing agents down in the meat, marinating also keeps meat tender and adds flavour to your meal. You can also use gentler cooking methods such as casseroling, boiling or microwave heating rather than high-temperature grilling, pan-frying or barbecuing. Based on the evidence, there’s more reason to be wary of processed meats than overcooked red meat, but we suggest you play it safe and if you do unintentionally overcook, scrape off any charcoal before eating.

This page was last updated on: June 24, 2014
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