Cancer-causing chemical found in bread samples from Delhi

CSE tested some of the bread sold in Delhi and found residues of Potassium Bromate and Iodate in commonly consumed varieties.

Bindu Shajan Perappadan
November 17, 2021 04:36 IST


Photo for representational purpose.

Your daily bread could contain cancer-causing chemicals, including Potassium Bromate and Potassium Iodate, substances that are banned in many countries, but not in India due to slack food regulations, warns a new report released by the Centre for Science and Environment.

CSE’s new study tested some of the bread sold in Delhi and found residues of Potassium Bromate and Iodate in commonly consumed varieties.


The use of Potassium Bromate – classified as a category 2B carcinogen (possibly carcinogenic to humans) – is banned in most countries. Also, Potassium Iodate, which contributes to thyroid-related diseases, was found.The group has now recommended an immediate ban on these two chemicals.

The study, conducted by CSE’s Pollution Monitoring Laboratory (PML), says Indian bread manufacturers use Potassium Bromate and Potassium Iodate for treating flour while making bread. The PML tested 38 commonly available branded varieties of pre-packaged breads of popular fast food outlets from Delhi.

“We found 84 per cent 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,” says Chandra Bhushan, deputy director general, CSE and head of the CSE lab.

‘Possibly carcinogenic to humans’

In 1999, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified Potassium Bromate as possibly carcinogenic (cancer causing) to humans. It was found to cause tumours of the kidney, thyroid and cancer of the abdominal lining in laboratory animals.Considering Potassium Bromate as a ‘genotoxic carcinogen’, the JECFA (WHO/FAO Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives) in 1992 said that “use of Potassium Bromate as a flour treatment agent was not appropriate”. The EU banned its use in 1990 and so did the U.K. Subsequently, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, China, Sri Lanka, Brazil, Nigeria, Peru and Columbia also decided to ban its usage.

“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,” Mr. Bhushan points out.

Under ideal baking conditions, Bromate converts into Bromide which is harmless. However, this does not seem to happen in practice. While there is not much labelling required on non-packaged fast foods, pre-packaged products have to disclose the flour treatment agent used.

“Industry members and experts told us that Potassium Bromate is widely used as it is allowed by law and offers high-quality finish to the final product. When CSE contacted companies whose products were found with Potassium Bromate or Potassium Iodate, six out of 12 came forward to deny use of these chemicals. Only one company was found to be labelling the use of Potassium Bromate,” says Amit Khurana, programme manager, Food Safety and Toxins team at CSE.

What do CSE test results show?

Eighty-four per cent (32/38) samples were found with Potassium Bromate/Iodate in the range of 1.15-22.54 parts per million (ppm). Seventy-nine 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 tested positive.

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.

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).

Only one brand – Perfect Bread – labels use of Potassium Bromate. No maker among those tested labels Potassium Iodate. Only Britannia denied use of Potassium Bromate or Iodate.

Products of all five popular multinational fast food outlets selling pizza and burger were found positive with Potassium Bromate/Iodate. These include KFC, Pizza Hut, Domino’s, Subway and McDonald’s. Except Domino’s, others have denied use.

Samples of two other fast food outlets — Nirula’s and Slice of Italy — also tested positive for Potassium Bromate/Iodate. Slice of Italy have denied use of the chemicals.

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