Officials urge calm as firms vow to remove cancer chemicals from bread

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock

Related tags Bread

Health officials have urged consumers not to panic over the presence of cancer-causing chemicals in bread after an analysis revealed that many of India’s most popular bakery brands tested positive for potassium bromate and potassium iodate. 

It might pose some danger [in the long-term] but no individual eats an entire pack of bread every day​,” said MC Misra, director of the All-India Institute of Medical Science in Delhi. 

The issue has been a cause of concern over the last week after India’s food regulator, the FSSAI, announced it would go ahead with a ban on potassium bromate as a food additive in bread products. 

The decision came after Centre for Science and Environment, an NGO, tested 38 widely available packaged and food-service breads, reporting that around 85% of them contained potassium bromate and potassium iodate.

High levels of the additives were found in a number of sandwich breads, pav and buns; those manufactured by Perfect Bread, Harvest Gold and Britannia were judged by CSE to contain the highest levels.

Meanwhile, KFC, Pizza Hut, Domino’s, Subway and McDonald’s were among the international fast-food chains to test positive for the additives in their pizza bases, buns and baguettes.

Potassium bromate, listed as a category 2B carcinogen that is “possibly carcinogenic to humans​” and banned in a number of countries including all EU states, typically increases dough strength, leads to higher rising and uniform finish in baked products. 

Potassium iodate, a flour treatment agent, could trigger thyroid disorders, and like potassium bromate, is allowed within prescribed limits in India.

A scientific panel has recommended the removal of potassium bromate from the list of additives. So we have already decided to take it out from the list. Soon it will be notified​,” said Pawan Kumar Agarwal, chief executive of the FSSAI. 

As far as potassium iodate is concerned, we are examining the evidence and soon a decision will be taken​.”

Following the CSE report, a number of manufacturers and food chains have stressed that their processes do not involve the use of either chemical—among them, McDonald’s, Domino’s, KFC and Britannia.

We do not use potassium bromate or potassium iodate in flour. The claims made by CSE are completely baseless​,’’ said Vikram Ogale, McDonald’s’ head of quality assurance.

However, Chandra Bhushan, deputy director general of CSE, has stood by the report, stressing that his lab re-confirmed the presence of the chemicals in some of the samples through an external third-party laboratory. 

Our study confirms the widespread use of potassium bromate/iodate as well as the presence of bromate/iodate residues in the final product​,” he said.

A number of bakery firms have accepted the recommendations in the CSE report and promised to withdraw potassium bromate from their products.

We will not use potassium bromate and iodate if people don’t like it​,” said Adil Hassan, of the All-India Bread Manufacturers’ Association, according to a report by IANS. 

We were using them as their use was allowed by our government and scientists. We have other enzymes and emulsifiers as their alternate​.”

Related topics Policy Food safety Bakery South Asia

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