Toxic chemicals in bread: Why you should read this article

May 24, 2016, 12:50 IST | midday online correspondent

Over 80 percent of pre-packaged breads tested positive for potassium bromate, which causes cancer. Here's a lowdown on the controversy that has shocked the nation

In a recent study conducted by NGO Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) in Delhi, 38 commonly available branded varieties of pre-packaged breads, pav and buns, ready-to-eat burger bread and ready-to-eat pizza breads of popular fast food outlets tested positive for potassium bromate or iodate, a chemical, which is said to cause diseases.

mid-day reported this first in 2011: Bromate in your bread? Why you should be worried

sliced bread controversy

The study found that the consumption of bread laced with the chemical cause the following health hazards:

- Tumours of the kidney
- Thyroid disorders
- Cancer of the abdominal lining in laboratory animals

Following CSE's study, Food regulator FSSAI decided to remove potassium bromate from the list of permitted additives while it is examining evidence against potassium iodate before restricting its use.

According to sources, in January FSSAI had decided to remove potassiun bromate from food additives list and had even issued a draft notification.

Quoting Food Safety and Standards (Food Product Standards and Additives) Regulations, 2011, CSE said the maximum level of use of potassium bromate and/or iodate in bread is set at 50 ppm. The maximum level of use of potassium bromate in flour for bakery is 20 ppm, while that of potassium bromate is 20 ppm in maida (refined wheat flour), if used for bakery.

The tested bread samples included brands such as Britannia, Harvest Gold and the fast food chains KFC, Pizza Hut, Domino's, Subway, McDonald's and Slice of Italy. Britannia, KFC, McDonald's and Subway denied that these chemicals were used in their products. Other brands did not comment despite repeated attempts.

Reacting to the issue, Britannia denied using Potassium Bromate or Iodate and said,"All Britannia breads products are in 100 per cent compliance to the existing food safety regulations as stipulated by FSSAI."

In a statement, it, however, said that as per FSSAI, for potassium Bromate/Iodate the permissible limit is 50 ppm max (On flour mass basis).

Echoing similar reactions, KFC said,"The safety and health of our customers is our top most priority and we are committed to following the best international standards and serving the highest quality products to customers.

"We have stringent processes in place to ensure that the food we serve complies with requirements laid down by FSSAI and is absolutely safe for consumption," it said.

McDonald's India also strongly denied the "claims and accusations" and termed it "completely baseless".

"McDonald's India does not use potassium bromate or potassium iodate in the flour and all other ingredients that goes into our buns. The claims made by CSE in their press release and report are completely baseless.

Subway meanwhile said that they use a bread improver, based on an enzyme (protein) technology derived from natural sources to improve the overall performance of its breads.

Jubilant FoodWorks Limited, which owns Domino's, said that it adheres to the highest quality standards and Indian food laws and follow all process to maintain the highest level of food safety across all our restaurants.

Slice of Italy also denied of allegations of using potassium bromate or iodate in its bread. All India Bread Manufacturers Association President Ramesh Mago said, "We have not seen the report of CSE on presence of potassium bromate in different bread brands collected by them from Delhi market about a year back (May 2015). Only after going through the contents of the report in detail, we will be able to give our response and considered views regarding the issue."

Should you still eat bread? Watch video to get expert's advice

Not the first time
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) had already classified potassium bromate as possibly carcinogenic or cancer causing to humans. The chemical was banned from use in 1990 by the European Union.

Why potassium bromate is used in baking
Despite ban and apparent health hazards, the chemical is typically used as a flour improver, which helps strengthen the dough and to allow higher rising. Potassium bromate is an oxidizing agent and will be completely used up in the baking bread under the right conditions. However, if too much is added, or if the bread is not baked long enough or not at a high enough temperature, then a residual amount will remain, which may be harmful if consumed. Apart from India, potassium bromate is used during baking in the USA.

Banned substance
Potassium bromate has been banned from use in food products in the European Union, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Nigeria, South Korea, Peru, Sri Lanka, China and other countries. Japan voluntarily stopped using potassium bromate in 1980. Despite this in 2005, food company Yamazaki Baking resumed its use claiming they had new production methods to reduce the amount of the chemical which remained in the final product.

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