FSSAI bans potentially cancer-causing chemical found in bread

FSSAI has recommended removal of potassium bromate from the list of permissible food additives to the union health ministry


Potassium bromate—a powerful oxidizing agent—is used for flour treatment in bread and other bakery products because it makes the bread fluffy, soft and gives it a good finish. Photo: Mint
Potassium bromate—a powerful oxidizing agent—is used for flour treatment in bread and other bakery products because it makes the bread fluffy, soft and gives it a good finish. Photo: Mint

New Delhi: India’s food regulator on Tuesday announced its decision to ban one of two toxic chemicals used widely as an additive in brands of packaged breads, and the bread used in ready-to-eat burgers and pizzas.

The decision by the Food and Safety Standard Authority of India (FSSAI) to ban the use of potassium bromate in breads came after a study by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) named it as one of two chemicals that could cause cancer.

But the regulator did not announce a ban on the second chemical named by CSE—potassium iodate.

Delhi based-CSE, an NGO, welcomed FSSAI’s move and said they “hope a ban on potassium iodate will follow”.

“Food Safety Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has decided to remove potassium bromate from the list of permissible additives,” said FSSAI’s chief executive officer Pawan Kumar Agarwal.

FSSAI has recommended removal of potassium bromate from the list of permissible food additives to the union health ministry. The official notification banning it now has to be issued by the health ministry. Agarwal said it may take a week or two and once that happens the use of potassium bromate would not allowed as a food additive.

He, however, said that FSSAI’s action is not a result of the CSE’s study released on Monday.

“This (Potassium Bromate as a food additive) was reviewed by FSSAI a few months ago. There was some limited scientific evidence that it might be causing cancer in occasional cases. So as a matter of precaution based on the scientific panel’s recommendation we are taking this out of permissible food additives,” Agarwal said.

On potassium iodate, Agarwal said, “so far we have not found enough reason that we should ban it in India. We are still collecting more evidence around that.”

With this move, India joins the European Union and nations like Canada, Australia, China, New Zealand, China, Sri Lanka, Brazil, Nigeria, Peru and Columbia where Potassium bromate is banned. The EU, Australia and New Zealand also ban the use of Potassium iodate. The US allows the use of both potassium bromate and potassium iodate.

Potassium bromate—a powerful oxidizing agent—is used for flour treatment in bread and other bakery products because it makes the bread fluffy, soft and gives it a good finish. In 1999, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified potassium bromate as possibly carcinogenic (cancer causing) to humans.

On Monday, CSE released a study claiming that majority of packaged bread, and the bread used in ready to eat burgers and pizzas contains toxic chemicals which could cause cancer.

CSE’s deputy director general Chandra Bhushan on Tuesday said, “We welcome the steps initiated by FSSAI to ban potassium bromate and evaluate the use of potassium iodate—we hope a ban on potassium iodate will follow. The Authority’s quick response to what we found in our study re-establishes our stand that public health must remain a priority.”

In its study, CSE had said its Pollution Monitoring Laboratory (PML) tested 38 commonly available branded varieties of pre-packaged bread, pav and buns, and the bread used in burgers and pizzas at popular fast food outlets in Delhi.

“We found 84% 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,” said Bhushan on Monday. He is also head of CSE’s lab.

Meanwhile, Union health minister J.P. Nadda said his ministry will take appropriate action, according to a report by the Press Trust of India. Nadda said he has directed the FSSAI to take the matter seriously and submit a report at the earliest.

“I have told FSSAI to take the matter seriously and submit the report. They are coming out with a report. The ministry will take appropriate action accordingly. We will take action as soon as the report comes,” Nadda told reporters.

PTI contributed to this story.

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