What’s in our bread? | Centre for Science and Environment


What’s in our bread?

CSE’s new study points to presence of possible cancer-causing chemical in bread 


Bread industry uses potassium bromate and potassium iodate, substances that are banned in many countries, but not in India; Indian regulators must act immediately and ban them

  • CSE’s new study tests bread sold in Delhi. Finds residues of potassium bromate/iodate in commonly consumed varieties

  • Use of potassium bromate – classified as a category 2B carcinogen (possibly carcinogenic to humans) – is banned in most countries. India still allows its use

  • Use of potassium iodate in making bread also banned by many nations because it can contribute to thyroid-related diseases

  • CSE recommends that FSSAI should ban use of potassium bromate and potassium iodate with immediate effect and prevent their routine exposure to Indian population

WEBINAR ON THE NEW STUDY

CSE is conducting a webinar on the study today (May 23) at 2.30 PM – exclusively for journalists. Our food safety experts will be making a presentation on the study and will be available for any questions. Please register yourself to participate: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/9102449222234670083

New Delhi, May 23, 2016: One of urban India’s staple food products – the bread that we buy off the shelves every day – could be laced with toxic chemicals which are serious health hazards, finds a new study done in Delhi by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).

The study, conducted by CSE’s Pollution Monitoring Laboratory (PML), says Indian bread manufacturers use potassium bromate and potassium iodate for treating flour while making bread. The use of these chemicals in the bread-making sector has been banned in many countries because they are listed as hazardous for public health: one is a category 2B carcinogen (possibly carcinogenic to humans) and the other could trigger thyroid disorders. India does not ban their use.

The PML tested 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 from Delhi. “We found 84 per cent samples positive with potassium bromate/iodate. We re-confirmed the presence of potassium bromate/iodate in a few samples through an external third-party laboratory. We checked labels and talked to industry and scientists. Our study confirms the widespread use of potassium bromate/iodate as well as presence of bromate/iodate residues in the final product,” says Chandra Bhushan, deputy director general, CSE and head of the CSE lab.

What has the world done on potassium bromate/iodate?

In 1999, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified potassium bromate as possibly carcinogenic (cancer causing) to humans. It was found to cause tumors of the kidney, thyroid and cancer of the abdominal lining in laboratory animals. Considering potassium bromate as a ‘genotoxic carcinogen’, the JECFA (WHO/FAO Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives) in 1992 said that “use of potassium bromate as a flour treatment agent was not appropriate”. The EU had already banned its use in 1990 and so did the UK. Subsequently, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, China, Sri Lanka, Brazil, Nigeria, Peru and Columbia have also decided against its use. CODEX Alimentarius, an international body which sets safety standards for food commodities, formally withdrew specifications of potassium bromate in 2012 – which means the presence of bromate in food was considered unsafe and illegal for international trade.  

“Globally, potassium bromate was allowed to be used on the assumption that the bromate residues would not be present in the end product. This assumption failed across the world. Residues were being detected even after reducing the allowed limits of use and therefore, countries started banning it. Our study confirms that residues of potassium bromate are present in bread sold in India,” Bhushan points out.   

The food safety regulations of India allow use of potassium bromate as flour treatment agent in bread and other bakery products. Potassium bromate is a powerful oxidizing agent, use of which makes bread fluffy, soft and gives it a good finish. Under ideal baking conditions, bromate converts into bromide which is harmless. However, this does not seem to happen in practice. While there is not much labelling required on non-packaged fast foods, pre-packaged products have to disclose the flour treatment agent used. 

“Industry members and experts told us that potassium bromate is widely used as it is allowed by law and offers high-quality finish to the final product. When CSE contacted companies whose products were found with potassium bromate or potassium iodate, six out of 12 came forward to deny use of these chemicals. Only one company was found to be labelling the use of potassium bromate,” says Amit Khurana, programme manager, Food Safety and Toxins team at CSE.

What did the CSE test results show?

  • 84 per cent (32/38) samples were found with potassium bromate/iodate in the range of 1.15-22.54 parts per million (ppm). 79 per cent (19/24) samples of packaged bread, all samples of white bread, pav, bun and ready-to-eat pizza bread and 75 per cent (3/4) samples of ready-to-eat burger bread were positive. 

  • High levels of potassium bromate/iodate were found in sandwich bread, pav, bun and white bread. Products of Perfect Bread, Harvest Gold and Britannia were those with higher levels. 

  • No residues were found in all four tested products of Defence Bakery (Whole Wheat Bread, Jumbo Slices Brown, Brown Bread, Multigrain), one out of four samples of English Oven (Sandwich Bread) and one out of two samples of Nirula’s (burger bread of Chatpata Aloo Burger).

  • Only one brand – Perfect Bread – labels use of potassium bromate. No maker among those tested labels potassium iodate. Only Britannia denied use of potassium bromate or iodate. 

  • Products of all five popular multinational fast food outlets selling pizza and burger were found positive with potassium bromate/iodate. These include KFC, Pizza Hut, Domino’s, Subway and McDonald’s. Except Domino’s, others have denied use in a response to CSE.   

  • Samples of two other fast food outlets -- Nirula’s and Slice of Italy -- also tested positive for potassium bromate/iodate. Slice of Italy denied use of the chemicals to CSE.

A regulatory loophole – once again
It is time that India banned the use of potassium bromate to safeguard public health, ensured necessary labelling norms and removed this chemical from food supply. “Bread and bakery products are an essential part of our daily diets today. Children are consuming them more than ever before. We need to prevent near-routine exposure of this possible cancer-causing chemical. There are safer alternatives present and cost of adopting those is insignificant. The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) should ban the use of these chemicals with immediate effect,” says Bhushan.

CSE researchers say that the FSSAI should also prohibit the use of potassium iodate as a flour treatment agent. The JECFA recommended not using it as a flour treatment agent as its use in a staple like bread can possibly lead to higher intake of iodine. It is not an approved additive in the EU and countries such as the UK, Australia and New Zealand. The European Food Safety Agency, in its scientific opinion of 2014, mentions that chronic excessive iodine intake may accelerate the development of sub-clinical thyroid disorders to overt hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism, increase the incidence of autoimmune thyroiditis and increase the risk of thyroid cancer. 

“Iodine supplementation through salt has been adequate for Indians. Therefore, the use of potassium iodate in bread could lead to higher iodine intake in people who consume large quantities of bread,” says Bhushan.

What CSE recommends

  • The FSSAI should ban the use of potassium bromate in making bread with immediate effect. The Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) should also amend relevant available standards.

  • Use of potassium iodate as a flour treatment agent in breads should not be allowed by the FSSAI. The BIS should amend relevant available standards in this case as well. 

• For a brief summary of the test results, the complete lab report and other related documents, please visit our website: www.cseindia.org

• For questions and interviews etc, contact Souparno Banerjee of the CSE Media Resource Centre, souparno@cseindia.org, 9910864339

 

 

AT A GLANCE – THE STUDY RESULTS

Sample type

Brands with potassium bromate/iodate

Concentration (ppm)

% Samples with potassium bromate/iodate

White bread

Harvest Gold White Bread− Premium Quality

17.32

100% (4/4)

Britannia Daily Fresh Healthy Slice Bread

17.12

Perfect Premium Quality White Bread− A Classic Bake

15.01

Le Marché Jumbo Bread Slice (White Bread)

11.52

Whole wheat/Atta bread

Le Marché Whole Meal Bread

4.67

75% (3/4)

Britannia 100% Whole Wheat Bread

2.58

English Oven Atta Bread

1.52

Defence Bakery Whole Wheat Bread

Not detected

Brown bread

Perfect Premium Quality Brown Bread

8.16

75% (6/8)

Harvest Gold’s Hearty Brown− Stone Ground Wheat Brown Bread

8.03

Le Marché Brown Bread

5.75

Britannia Daily Fresh Healthy Slice Brown Bread

5.48

Le Marché Jumbo Bread Slice (Brown Bread)

1.65

English Oven Brown Bread

1.15

Defence Bakery Jumbo slices Brown

Not detected

Defence Bakery Brown Bread

Not detected

Multigrain bread

Le Marché Multi Granex Loaf

4.20

80 % (4/5)

English Oven Multigrain bread

2.37

Harvest Gold Multi Grain Gourmet Bread

1.99

Britannia Multi Grain Bread

1.66

Defence Bakery Multigrain

Not detected

Sandwich bread

Harvest Gold Sandwich Bread− Premium Large Size

22.54

66.6% (2/3)

Perfect Sandwich Bread − A Classic Bake

20.09

English Oven Sandwich Bread

Not detected

Pav

Perfect Premium Quality Pav − A Classic Bake

21.70

100% (3/3)

Britannia Super Tasty Pav

15.01

Harvest Gold Bombay Pav − Premium Quality

14.89

Bun

Harvest Gold Sweet Bun − Premium Quality

20.58

100% (3/3)

Perfect Premium Quality Fruit Buns − A Classic Bake

19.81

Britannia Fruit Fun Bun

16.74

Ready-to-eat burger bread

KFC Aloo Burger

6.23

75% (3/4)

Subway Subz Burger

1.36

McDonald’s McAloo Tikki Burger

1.23

Nirula’s Chatpata Aloo Burger

Not detected

Ready-to-eat pizza bread

Nirula’s Cheese Tomato Onion Pizza

6.63

100% (4/4)

Pizza Hut Margherita Pizza

2.30

Slice of Italy Margherita Classic Pizza

1.23

Domino’s Margherita Pizza

1.18

Note: ppm = parts per million; UV-Visible Spectrophotometer cannot differentiate between potassium bromate and potassium iodate.

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