If You Thought Multigrain Bread Was Healthy, Think Again

A new study indicates the startling levels of carcinogenic chemical additives present in bread and bakery products.

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Health News
4 min read


84 percent of bread and bakery samples collected from all over the city contains residues of  potassium bromate, potassium iodate or both. (Photo: iStockPhoto)

If you thought that the neatly-made sandwich with the right amount of lettuce, layered between two pieces of multigrain bread was the perfect (read: healthy) snack, think again.

According to Down To Earth magazine, a new study by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has shown that a startling 84 percent of bread and bakery samples collected from all over the city contains residues of chemical food additives like potassium bromate, potassium iodate or both. The report prompted the Union Health Minister JP Nadda to order a probe into the matter.

If you are still wondering why the report got such an immediate reaction, here’s a lowdown on why these chemicals are harmful.

Global studies have shown that bromate is a possible carcinogen (cancer-causing substance), which eventually led to it getting banned in several countries. Potassium iodate, banned in many countries, can potentially affect thyroid function.

But in India, the use of these as treatment agents continues.

To find out if potassium bromate and potassium iodate was present in different types of breads, the Pollution Monitoring Laboratory (PML) at CSE collected 38 bread and bakery samples from across Delhi during May-June 2015.

The findings are shocking, to say the least.

The infographic is a representation of the CSE data. (Photo: <b>The Quint</b>/Rahul Gupta)
The infographic is a representation of the CSE data. (Photo: The Quint/Rahul Gupta)

Don’t Take That Bite

All samples of white bread, pav, bun and ready-to-eat pizza bread were found to contain potassium bromate and/or iodate.

  • Pav, followed by bun and white bread, contained one of the highest levels of potassium bromate and/or iodate.

  • To recheck the results, CSE selected four samples of the brands tested earlier and sent them to a reputed third-party application laboratory in September 2015.

  • The results of the external lab also confirmed the use of potassium iodate.
Pav, followed by bun and white bread contained one of the highest levels of potassium bromate and/or iodate. (Photo: iStockphoto)
Pav, followed by bun and white bread contained one of the highest levels of potassium bromate and/or iodate. (Photo: iStockphoto)

Taking the Onus

Capable of harming the reputation of several brands in the business, the results prompted CSE to contact some of them – their responses varied from blatant refusal to mild acceptance.

However, McDonalds denied all allegations, saying that the company followed “stringent quality processes at every stage.”

“In India, as also globally, McDonald’s adheres to the highest food safety standards and pursues strict compliance with consumer safety laws and regulations.”

KFC too denied the allegations, claiming they do not use flour treated with either potassium bromate or potassium iodate.

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.

Perfect Bread is the only brand to declare that it uses potassium bromate on its label.

Harvest Gold and Defence Bakery do not even label the class title – flour treatment agent – as required by the Food Safety and Standards (Packaging and Labelling) Regulations, 2011.

The bread used for ready-to-eat pizza and ready-to-eat burgers don’t have any labels as they are non-packaged and are not legally required to carry such labels.

Britannia outrightly refused the usage of either potassium bromate or potassium iodate in any of their bread variants.

Slice of Italy, Pizza Hut and Subway also denied the use of these additives.

How They Affect Our Health

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), associated with the World Health Organization (WHO), in 1986 had stated that there was sufficient evidence to show the carcinogenicity of potassium bromate. In 1999, IARC classified potassium bromate as Class 2B which means “possibly carcinogenic (cancer-causing) to humans”.

Similarly, recommendations were made to ban the use of potassium iodate. The European Food Safety Agency referred to studies in its scientific opinion of 2014 which state that both insufficient and excessive iodine can lead to thyroid disorders, and hypo and hyperthyroid status in humans.



The bread used for ready-to-eat pizza and ready-to-eat burgers don’t have any labels as they are non-packaged and are not legally required to carry such labels. (Photo: iStockphoto)
The bread used for ready-to-eat pizza and ready-to-eat burgers don’t have any labels as they are non-packaged and are not legally required to carry such labels. (Photo: iStockphoto)

India: Where’s the Ban?

Breads are a common part of our meals. From sandwiches to street food, brown bread to multigrain bread, Indians are increasingly opting for bread as a part of their meals.

While the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) had discussed the issue of banning potassium bromate in 2011, it has not taken a final decision yet.

Because of the lack of a structured layout from the FSSAI regarding the additives, manufacturers continue using it. As its not a violation of rules and comes cheap, potassium bromate is one of the most popular flour treatment agents.

Time For Food Regulators To Step In

As the CSE mentions in its report, there is an urgent need for the FSSAI to step into the debate.

“The FSSAI should prohibit the use of potassium bromate with immediate effect. Considering that it can cause cancer, and is banned in most parts of the world, there is no reason why this chemical should be allowed,” the report says.

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