Chemical additive Potassium bromate is carcinogenic: CSE Study

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As per recent study conducted by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), nearly 84 per cent of 38 commonly available brands of pre- packaged breads including pav and buns, tested positive for potassium bromate (KbrO3) and potassium iodate (KIO3), banned in many countries as they are listed as "hazardous" for public health.

The CSE report said that potassium bromate used in pre- packaged breads is a category 2B carcinogen (possibly carcinogenic to humans) while potassium iodate could trigger thyroid disorders but India has not banned their use.

Union Health Minister J.P. Nadda has asked FSSAI to take the matter seriously and submit a report at the earliest. Following this, national food regulator FSSAI (Food Safety and Standards Authority of India) has decided to remove potassium bromate from the list of permitted additives and will issue notification in this regard within 6-7 days.

Why Potassium bromate is used in bread ? 

Potassium bromate, or simply called bromate, is an oxidiser used as chemical additive in food items in the form of white crystals or powder  to strengthen dough and enhance its elasticity by making tiny bubbles that help the bread rise. This helps bake uniform and whitened bread. 

In India, the legal permissible limit to add Potassium bromate as chemical additive in food is 50 parts per million (ppm) while the US allows it up to 75 ppm. Normally, baking changes its chemical composition and renders it harmless, leaving no trace in the finished product but if too much of the additive is used, or the bread is not baked long enough  or at a high enough temperature,  then a residual amount will remain, which may be harmful if consumed.

Evidence of Toxicity

 An expert committee administered by the World Health Organisation and Food and Agriculture Organization have confirmed that potassium bromate is ‘genotoxic carcinogen’ i.e. a chemical agent that can damage genetic information, causing mutations. Potassium bromate is classified as a category 2B carcinogen (possibly carcinogenic to humans) by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).

Countries where Potassium bromate is banned 

The European Union, China, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Canada, Australia, Brazil, Peru and Columbia have banned the use of potassium bromate as a flour treatment agent. The EU has banned potassium iodate as well. Sri Lanka banned the use of potassium bromate in 2001 while China banned  it's use in 2005.

India and the US continue to allow use of potassium bromate in permissible limits. India allows use of potassium bromate and/or iodate up to 50 ppm on flour mass basis, while the US allows it up to 75 ppm.

However the US officially urges bakers not to use potassium bromate as in California, food containing potassium is required to have a warning label and even many bread and bakery manufacturers have voluntarily stopped using it in US.

What are the alternatives to Potassium bromate ?

There are various other healthy  alternatives for Potassium bromate such as Ascorbic acid or Vitamin-C. Glucose oxidase is another option approved by FSSAI in 2015. Even ammonium persulphate, ammonium chloride and amylases are other food improvers and flour treatment agents approved by law.

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