LOS ANGELES -- Snack lovers, rejoice: Munching on potato chips just got a little healthier.
Four food manufacturers agreed to reduce levels of a cancer-causing chemical in their potato chips and french fries under a settlement announced Friday by the state attorney general's office.
California sued H.J. Heinz Co., Plano-based Frito-Lay, Kettle Foods Inc., and Lance Inc. in 2005, alleging they violated a state requirement that companies post warning labels on products with carcinogens.
The companies avoided trial by agreeing to pay a combined $3 million in fines and reduce the levels of acrylamide in their products over three years, officials said.
"Other companies should follow this lead," Attorney General Jerry Brown said, calling the settlement "a victory for public health."
Acrylamide forms naturally when starchy foods are baked or fried. Studies have shown the chemical, which also has industrial uses, causes cancer in lab animals and nerve damage to workers who are exposed to high levels. The Food and Drug Administration is researching whether acrylamide in food poses a health risk.
"Everybody's trying to figure out how to lower levels (of acrylamide) without significantly, adversely affecting taste," said Michele Corish, an attorney for Lance, which produces Cape Cod chips.
Corish said the modified snacks will be available nationwide. Messages left with the other three companies were not immediately returned Friday night.
The attorney general's office said the levels of acrylamide in most Cape Cod chips are already near the compliance level as defined by the settlement. However, Brown said Cape Cod Robust Russets contain 25 times the acceptable amount.
Corish said "Robust Russets" chips are no longer being sold.
According to the terms of the settlement, Frito-Lay, which is owned by PepsiCo Inc. and produces most of the chips sold in California, will pay $1.5 million and chip-maker Kettle Foods will pay $350,000 in penalties. Heinz, which produces frozen fries and tater tots, agreed to pay $600,000. Lance will pay $95,000.
The state also sued McDonald's Corp.; Wendy's International Inc.; Burger King Corp.; KFC, a subsidiary of Yum Brands Inc.; and Procter & Gamble Co. over acrylamide levels in 2005. Those lawsuits were settled after the companies agreed to either properly label their products or lower levels of the chemical.