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Indian bread manufacturers budge after CSE warning, remove potassium bromate from their products
Last week, a new study released by the Centre for Science and Environment had claimed that many well known brands of packaged breads, including the ones used in burgers and pizzas contained high levels of potassium bromate, a known carcinogen.

Union health minister JP Nadda while asking the people not to panic had directed India's food regulator, (FSSAI) Food Safety and Standards Authority of India to look into CSE's claims.

CSE's Pollution Monitoring Laboratory (PML) had tested 38 samples of branded varieties of bread including pavs, buns, pizza breads and the bread used in burgers at popular food outlets in Delhi. And the report that came out was shocking.

Chandra Bhushan, CSE's deputy director general and head of CSE lab said, "We found 84 per cent samples with potassium bromate. 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 bromate/iodate residues in the final product."

After the report of CSE emerged, the food regulator FSSAI decided to remove potassium bromate from the list of permitted additives, while examining the evidence against potassium iodate before banning its use.


The CSE report also said, "High levels of potassium bromate/iodate were found in sandwich bread, pav, buns and white bread. Products of Perfect Bread, Harvest Gold and Britannia were those with higher levels."

The official statement of CSE had also said that only one brand – Perfect Bread, had indicated on its product labels that they used potassium bromate.

Another revelation by the CSE report was that five most popular food outlets – KFC, Pizza Hut, Domino's, Subway and McDonald's were using bread containing potassium bromate.

Although most of the Indian bread manufacturers have denied the use of potassium bromate in their products, the truth has finally come out in the open. While buying bread in my locality today morning in DLF Phase IV, Gurugram (Gurgaon), I came across samples of packaged bread of Harvest Gold. The packaging of the bread read: "bromate-free".

Coincidently, just two days back I had bought the same brand of bread, `Harvest Gold' which had turned hard and stiff by the same evening. So, while buying bread today I complained to the shopkeeper about the bad quality of bread. The shopkeeper showed me the bromate free indication on the packaging and told me that since bromate had been removed, bread which used to stay in edible condition for at least 4-days, now turns stiff the same evening. He advised me to finish the bread the same day in the future.

"Some players were already not putting potassium bromate in their breads. Other members of the association, who were using it, have stopped doing so. We do not directly purchase potassium bromate, it is the bread improving agents that may come with potassium bromate, and members are working on changing that now," said Ramesh Mago, President of All India Bread Manufacturers Association and MD of Kitty Industries.

According to him in the next 7-10 days, even smaller players will switch to potassium bromate-free bread improving agents.

Mago said, "As an association, our members have also taken a decision to put in clear labelling to clear the confusion in the consumer's mind."

Another interesting fact is that ideally the bread should develop fungus and molds after 2-days. If this is not happening to your bread, then it means that it has an overdose of preservatives and a potentially dangerous cocktail of chemical additives.

Have you ever thought why the fresh roti you make everyday, is consumed the same day and never the next day. Even a roti would develop molds and fungus if kept for more than a day, because it does not contain preservatives or chemicals.

Becoming inquisitive after what the shopkeeper told me, I decided to do some research on what role does potassium bromate/iodate play in the manufacturing of bread, and what I came across was both interesting as well as shocking.

What is potassium bromate and what role does it play in commercially made bread?

Potassium bromate is a powerful oxidising agent that chemically ages flour, much faster than it would happen naturally by relying on air in the atmosphere. A wheat protein, gluten is the glue which binds the bread dough to itself. But for two gluten molecules to bind with each other, a molecular bridge needs to be formed, which happens only by oxidation.

Historically, bakers used to reply on the natural process of oxidation by aging the flour after milling it and exposing it to air for weeks. Then slowly the flour was mixed into the dough and the oxygen would work to building the bridges between two gluten molecules.

But now, due to demands of high production and shortage of time, chemicals like potassium bromate are used for completing the process requiring weeks in just one hour flat. Potassium bormate bleaches flour, enhances the elasticity of dough and also makes the dough rise, which ensures that the end product if fluffy, soft and of an unnatural milky white colour.

What are the potential risks involved in using potassium bromate?

The potential risks of potassium bromide came to light in 1982, after researchers in Japan concluded in studies conducted that potassium bromate causes cancer in the thyroids, kidneys and other parts of rats and mice.

Today potassium bromate is banned in the European Union, China, Brazil and Canada along with many other countries. In the United States, potassium bromate has not been banned and has been in use since 1914, when it was first introduced in the baking industry.

Ideally, if baked at high temperatures, potassium bromate gets converted into potassium bromide, which is not harmful. But then, who is monitoring at what temperature your bread is being baked? And if high levels of potassium bromate are added in the first place, the end product is bound to have more than required levels of potassium bromate.

In a nutshell, potassium bromite is a harmful additive, which must be avoided at any cost. Indian bread makers seem to be heading in the right direction by removing the chemical from their products. But consumers are still advised to pay more attention to the packaged product labeling and check the ingredients list before buying the product.

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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