Potentially cancer-causing chemicals found in bread variants: CSE study

The study found various samples of packaged bread, white bread, pav, buns, breads used in pizzas and burgers to contain the chemicals


Indian bread manufacturers use potassium bromate, which was classified as possibly carcinogenic to humans—but not banned in India or the US—for treating flour, said the study. Photo: Mint
Indian bread manufacturers use potassium bromate, which was classified as possibly carcinogenic to humans—but not banned in India or the US—for treating flour, said the study. Photo: Mint

New Delhi: A new study released by activist group Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) on Monday claimed that many brands of packaged bread, and the bread used in ready to eat burgers and pizzas contain toxic chemicals which could probably cause cancer.

Union health minister J.P. Nadda has asked India’s food regulator, Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), to look into CSE’s claims. He asked people not to panic.

CSE 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 Chandra Bhushan, CSE’s deputy director general and head of the CSE lab.

Food regulator FSSAI said it has decided to remove potassium bromate from the list of permitted additives while it is examining evidence against potassium iodate before restricting its use.

The study said 19 of 24 samples of packaged bread, all samples of white bread, pav, buns and the bread used in pizzas and three out of four samples of the bread used in burgers had the chemicals.

“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,” the CSE report said.

It added that 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),” the .

On labelling of these products, CSE in an official statement said only one brand—Perfect Bread—labels use of potassium bromate and no maker (among those tested) labels potassium iodate.

“Only Britannia denied use of potassium bromate or iodate,” it added.

The report also revealed that products of all five popular multinational fast food outlets—KFC, Pizza Hut, Domino’s, Subway and McDonald’s—selling pizzas and burgers had potassium bromate/iodate.

Samples of two other fast food outlets—Nirula’s and Slice of Italy—also tested positive for the two chemicals. Slice of Italy denied use of the chemicals to CSE.

Indian bread manufacturers use potassium bromate and potassium iodate for treating flour. In 1999, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified potassium bromate as possibly carcinogenic (cancer causing) to humans. It is banned in many countries but not in India or the US.

“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,” CSE’s Bhushan added.

When CSE contacted the companies whose products were found to contain potassium bromate or potassium iodate, six out of 12 denied use of these chemicals. CSE recommended that FSSAI ban the use of potassium bromate in making bread with immediate effect.

In their response to Mint, many companies said that they do not use the chemicals

“At Jubilant FoodWorks Limited, we believe in, and adhere to, the highest quality standards and Indian food laws. We follow all process to maintain the highest level of food safety across all our restaurants. We only use additive/ingredients duly approved under Food Safety and Standards Authority of India Act (FSSAI) in all our preparations (across all our restaurants). The flour used by us is not treated with Potassium Bromate / Potassium Iodate. We do undertake certificate of analysis/undertaking from our flour suppliers on no usage of Potassium Bromate/Potassium Iodate in our flour supplies. We also carry out regular assessments of the flour to ensure compliance in this regard,” a Domino’s spokesperson said.

The promoters of HT Media Ltd, which publishes Mint, and Jubilant FoodWorks are closely related. There are, however, no promoter cross-holdings.

McDonald’s too denied CSE’s claim. “McDonald’s India strongly denies the claim and accusation made in the CSE report. McDonald’s India does not use potassium bromate or potassium iodate in the flour and all other ingredients that goes into our buns. The claims made by CSE in its press release and report are completely baseless. At McDonald’s India, we serve our customers with the highest quality products across all our restaurants,” said Vikram Ogale, director, National Supply Chain and Quality Assurance.

Manpreet Gulri, country head at Subway Systems India Pvt. Ltd, said his firm wouldn’t respond without going through CSE’s report.

Britannia said it does not use potassium bromate or iodate as an ingredient in any of its bread recipes.

“All Britannia Breads products are in 100% compliance to the existing food safety Regulations as stipulated by FSSAI. It must be noted that FSSAI stipulates usage of all Food Additives in Food Products within permissible limits. For potassium Bromate/Iodate, FSSAI stipulates the permissible limit as 50 ppm max (On flour mass basis). Britannia has studied the test reports released by CSE a couple of hours ago. The CSE report clearly states that the third part lab report did not find Potassium Bromate or Iodate in Britannia Bread samples,” said an official statement from Britannia.

A KFC spokesperson said, “Our suppliers have confirmed that they do not use flour treated with Potassium Bromate or Potassium Iodate to manufacture our products”.

“The safety and health of our customers is our top most priority and we are committed to following the best international standards and serving the highest quality products to customers. 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,” the KFC spokesperson added.

Amrit Raj of Mint and PTI contributed to this story.

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