Do you know the bread you consume can increase the risk of cancer? And no, this is not restricted to just white bread, but brown, multigrain, wholewheat and even your pavs, buns and pizza breads.
According to a study released by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), 84 per cent of bread and bakery samples collected from across Delhi contain residues of potassium bromate, potassium iodate or both. While potassium bromate is said to be a Class 2B carcinogenic, which means it may cause cancer, potassium iodate can lead to "thyroid disorders, increase the incidence of autoimmune thyroiditis and increase the risk of thyroid cancer," the report said.
But why are these chemicals used in breads? The report says potassium bromate (KBrO3) helps achieve high rising and a uniform finish, and the potassium iodate (KIO3) is used by breadmakers as flour treatment agents. The chemicals were popularly used across the world till the the late 1980s and early 1990s, when there was a conscious effort to minimise their use following evidence pointing towards adverse impact on the health of consumers.
To find out if potassium bromate and potassium iodate are present in different types of breads, the Pollution Monitoring Laboratory (PML) at CSE collected 38 bread and bakery samples from retail shops, bakeries and fast food outlets in Delhi during May-June 2015. The samples included popular varieties of white bread, whole wheat/atta bread, brown bread, multigrain bread, sandwich bread, pav, bun, ready-to-eat burger bread and ready-to-eat pizza bread. The brands included many well-known bread brands as well as seven fast food chains, both domestic as well as international.
The study found that 84 per cent (32/38) samples were found with potassium bromate or iodate in the range of 1.15-22.54 parts per million (ppm). Around 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.
"The highest level of potassium bromate and/or iodate was found in sandwich bread. This was followed by pav, bun and white bread. Even the average level of the residues was high in these product categories," says the report. The report says most bread brands do not even name the two chemicals in the list of ingredients.
According to the report, the use of potassium bromate and/or iodate has been banned in several countries across the world, including Australia, significant parts of Europe, Canada and China, among others. The US and India have no such ban in place, with the former asking bakers to voluntarily avoid using it.
The CSE recommends that the The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) "should prohibit the use of potassium bromate in making bread and bakery products with immediate effect. Considering that it can cause cancer, is banned in most parts of the world, and has healthy alternatives, there is no reason why this chemical should be allowed, specifically when residues are found to be present in the end-product." It suggests a similar ban for the use of potassium iodate as well.
Reacting to the CSE report, Health Minister JP Nadda said, "We are seized of the matter. I have told my officials to report to me on an urgent basis. There is no need to panic. Very soon we will come out with the (probe) report."
Food regulator FSSAI Monday 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.