Should we be alarmed with chemicals in bread?
A recent study done by the Centre for Science and Environment found most bread samples (collected from companies like Harvest Gold, Britannia, KFC, Pizza Hut, Domino, McDonald’s, Slice of Italy and Subway in Delhi) they tested contained varying amounts of this chemical Potassium Bromate.
So, is this really a reason to be alarmed about? Should we now make do with the humble roti and chawal and stop eating our breads and cakes, buns and cookies?
Let us first find out what is this villain, Potassium Bromate all about. For those who have never ventured near an oven, let me tell you, Potassium Bromate is a widely used product in bakeries. It is used for preparation of bread, biscuits, crackers, eggs rolls and meat balls. This is THE chemical that gives these products their white colour and fluffiness. And it has been in use since ages.
Way back in 1980s, the World Health Organisation was the first one to recognize the harmful effects of potassium bromate. Later, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) declared that Potassium Bromate was a “probable carcinogen”. Thereafter, countries like UK, Australia, Canada, Brazil and China banned its use. But India as well as US allow the use of this additive though in controlled quantities.
As per the Food safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) Potassium Bromate can be used in amounts up to 50 ppm for bread and 20 ppm for flours and other bakery products though the limits for the residues have not been defined as yet. And, it is the residual amount that is the real cause of alarm.
Researches over the years have shown that when potassium bromate is present in flour at levels of 5-80 mg/kg, no residual bromate is detectable in bread prepared from the flour by a bulk-fermentation process after 20-25 minutes baking. So, the idea is to keep the residual amount at level zero or in micro amounts.
Baking experts say that if a product containing Potassium Bromate is be baked for a sufficiently long time at a high temperature the harmful effects are nullified. The cause of worry is only when either the chemical is present in liberal amounts or heating is not sufficient. It is only under these circumstances that there is a fear of this harmful chemical passing into the body of the one consuming it.
While leading bread makers has assured that they will not use potassium bromated henceforth, medical fraternity says there is no reason to press the emergency panic buttons advising, at the same time, that the use of any chemical compound should be within the permissible limits. They also advise the manufactures against adulteration in food items.
Potassium Bromate falls under the list of probable carcinogens and hence its cancer-causing properties are not definite, say experts. Further, a study done in 1982 by Y. Kurokawa titled, Carcinogenicity of Potassium Bromate by Oral administration and submitted to WHO, shows that the agent is carcinogenic in rats when given orally.
In humans, neither short- nor long-term feeding with flour treated with high levels of potassium bromate or with bread made from it revealed any adverse effects and, at the level of use for technological treatment of flour, bromate is converted to bromide; low or undetectable residues remain in bread prepared from treated flours. Bromate is also used in treating barley in beer making and here too it is reduced to bromide.
“There is no need to panic much in the long-term about presence of potassium bromate and potassium iodate in the pre-packaged daily bread but excess of anything should be avoided,” says Dr M.C. Misra, director, AIIMS, Delhi.
“It might pose some danger but no individual eats entire pack of bread in a day; a majority of people eat a piece or two at the most, so in the long-term there is no need to panic much as has also been said by the FSSAI (Food Safety and Standards Authority of India),” he adds.
“Further, the usage of chemical additives in food items should be minimized. It is always better to have fresh food items like eggs, fruits, vegetables and other alternatives. Besides one should eat everything in moderate quantity,” says Dr Mishra.