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Food Additive “ADA” Widely Used in Breads Linked to Potential Health Risks

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Do you want some industrial chemicals with your sandwich? Most people don’t, but according to recent reports, we’ve been getting them, whether we like it or not.

In February 2014, foodbabe.com petitioned Subway to stop using “azodicarbonamide (ADA)”—a chemical compound found in plastics, synthetic leather, and ceramics—in their breads.

“I discovered that Subway makes bread with an ingredient called azodicarbonamide,” writes Vani Hari, creator of foodbabe.com. “It can be found in almost all the breads at Subway restaurants here in North America, but not in Europe, Australia, or other parts of the world.”

That’s because the chemical has been banned in Australia and in some European countries. It’s still FDA-approved for use in the U.S. as a food additive, however, as long as levels do not exceed 2.05 grams per 100 pounds of flour, or 45 parts per million.

Apparently it’s not just Subway that has taken advantage of this approval—so have companies like Ball Park, Little Debbie, Kroger, Pillsbury, Wonder, and more.

Health Organizations Express Concern About ADA

The Environmental Working Group (EWG), in its recent report on ADA, states that in plastics, the chemical helps make materials that are “strong, light, spongy, and malleable.” In foods, the chemical imparts a similar benefit, making breads puffier and more resistant to shipping and storage. The organization found the chemical in nearly 500 items, and more than 130 brands of foods. These included breads, snacks, bread stuffing, and things like croutons and pre-made sandwiches, and many so-called “healthy” foods.

So far, ADA has not been found to be toxic at the low levels approved for food, but several organizations have expressed concern about its widespread use. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), for example, released a statement on February 4, 2014, noting that the ingredient has been used for years, but has been “poorly tested.” Part of the problem is that the chemical, when heated during baking, breaks down, creating two other chemicals that are considered toxic.

ADA Breaks Down Into Carcinogenic Chemicals

“Two suspicious chemicals form when bread with azodicarbonamide is baked,” CSPI senior scientist Lisa Lefferts states. One of these is “semicarbazide,” which has been linked with cancer in animal studies. The second one is “urethane,” which is a known carcinogen.

“When azodicarbonamide is used at its maximum allowable level,” she says, “it leads to slightly increased levels of urethane in bread that pose a small risk to humans.”

CSPI has joined others in urging the FDA to ban the use of this food additive, stating “this is hardly a chemical that we need in our food supply.” The World Health Organization (WHO) has also expressed concern, noting epidemiological studies that have found ADA to induce asthma and other respiratory symptoms and skin sensitization in exposed workers.

Subway Making a Change—Will Other Companies?

Subway announced in early February 2014 that it will be removing ADA from its breads. “We are already in the process of removing Azodicarbonamide as part of our bread improvement efforts despite the fact that it is USDA and FDA approved ingredient,” they said in a statement. “The complete conversion to have this product out of the bread will be done soon.”

So far it’s unclear if any of the other companies using ADA will make similar changes in the interest of public health, though Dunkin’ Donuts did tell CNBC that they are “evaluating the use of the ingredient as a dough conditioner in our products…,” and Starbucks also stated they were transitioning to a new brand of bakery products that will not contain the chemical.

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  1. Mike says:
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    Now if only we could get these companies to remove di-hydrogen mon-oxide. Another dangerous chemical also added to food and yoga mats.

  2. JR Richmond says:
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    As a retired plastic injection moldmaker I can tell you the State of California requires plastic molding companies to post a warning sign on exterior doors “Warning, this building contains substances known by the State of California to be carcinogenic.” ADA is one of those plastic substances and commonly processed at only 300 degrees Farenheit, below the temparture for baking bread. Howdy to all my cousins in Hundred and Silver Hill. JR