It has been found time and again that processed and packaged food, however ‘natural, contains additives and chemicals that are controversial, or outright harmful to human health. Bread, that is the most common processed breakfast food, has a suspected tumour-causing additive—Potassium Bromate—in it. It is used to strengthen bread dough and most leading brands of bread use this ingredient in their products.
The excess revenue comes to Rs 8.12 crore, out of which the prize money distributed was worth only Rs 1.04 crore
If countries like UK, Cananda, China and Sri Lanka can ban the ingredient, why should Indian standards not stand up for consumer health in the same fashion?
Bread, rolls, doughnuts, and cakes are considered harmless additions to ones diet. What could be lurking in these breakfast and snack foods is a lethal chemical—Potassium Bromate—that has been known to cause tumours in rats in studies done in the US since the 1980s. Subsequent studies on rats and mice confirmed that it causes tumors of the kidney, thyroid, and other organs.
Potassium Bromate is added to baked products to strengthen bread dough (a dough improver) and there are several brands of bread in India that use potassium bromate in their products. This chemical Potassium Bromate is an oxidising agent with the International Numbering System (INS) Number 924a. Bakers use small quantities of it so that the bread ‘puffs up while being baked.
In Delhi and surrounding areas, breads like ‘Britannia, ‘Harvest Gold and ‘Perfect contain this chemical. If potassium bromate is not listed on the label as ‘924a, it may not always mean that the bread is without the chemical. Potassium bromate may be included in the ‘salts put in the bread and therefore may not be labeled as an independent ingredient.
Alternatives to Potassium Bromate
In place of Potassium Bromate, Potassium Iodate (INS Number 917) or Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C) INS Number 300, may also be used. Under the Indian law (Prevention of Food Adulteration (PFA) Rules, 1955), both Potassium Bromate or Potassium Iodate may be used in bread-making at same level i.e. upto50 mg/kg (parts per million) and Ascorbic Acid as per the Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) i.e. without limit. However, Potassium Iodate and Ascorbic Acid are generally not used by the industry because these are more expensive than Potassium Bromate.
If too much Potassium Bromate is added, or if the bread is not cooked long enough or not at a high enough temperature, then a residual amount of the chemical remains in bread, which can be harmful.
According to International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), Potassium Bromate is considered a category 2B (possibly carcinogenic to humans) carcinogen i.e. it may cause cancer to humans.
Potassium Bromate has been banned from use in food products in Europe, as well as the United Kingdom in 1990 and in Canada in 1994. It was banned in Sri Lanka in 2001 and China in 2005. It is also banned in Nigeria, Brazil, Peru and Uganda.
In the United States of America (USA), potassium bromate has not been banned. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of USA instead urged bakers to voluntarily stop using it. In the US state of California, a warning label is required when bromate-treated flour is used.
“Potassium Bromate termed a cancer threat”
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a Washington, US-based public health group in 1999 petitioned the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to prohibit the use of potassium bromate, which is used to strengthen bread dough. CSPI charged that the FDA has known for years that bromate causes cancers in laboratory animals, but has failed to ban it.
“The FDA should fulfill its responsibility to protect the public’s health,” said Michael F. Jacobson, Ph.D., executive director of CSPI. “Instead of meeting privately with industry, the FDA should ban bromate immediately.”
“In 1992-93 and again in 1998-99, the FDA tested several dozen baked goods and found that many contained bromate at levels considered unsafe by the agency,” said Darren Mitchell, a CSPI attorney. “One sample tested recently had almost 1,000 times the detection limit. The FDA’s inaction needlessly exposes consumers to this harmful additive.”
CSPI advises consumers to avoid bread, rolls, doughnuts, and cakes that list “potassium bromate” or “bromated flour” among their ingredients. FDA’s limited surveys found that rolls and buns are especially likely to contain high levels of bromate.