You wouldn’t think that your piece of daily bread will have anything common with your Yoga mat.
Have you ever noticed your store bought bread stays fresh longer than it used to? You don’t have to worry quite as much that it’s going to go moldy and stale while it sits in the pantry and you’ll end up tossing the bread – and money – in the trash. That’s good, right? Well, maybe not.
The staying power is thanks to an ingredient called azodicarbonamide. It’s the same product that’s used in foamed plastics like yoga mats and sneaker soles! Seriously.
What Plastics and Bread Have in Common
Azodicarbonamide is primarily used as a blowing agent in the rubber and plastics industry – and it’s in your bread too. When someone discovered that this powdery substance has the ability to strengthen and whiten flour, rather than waiting for flour to whiten on its own, it made its way into the food industry.
But while your bread looks prettier and be more shelf-stable, it also could be causing respiratory illness. A report by the World Health Organization looked at the effects of azodicarbonamide exposure to humans who worked with the powder in a manufacturing environment. It found a connection of the substance to asthma and other allergic reactions – and this reaction was just from being exposed to it, not even ingesting it.
It may cause cancer too. Researchers in China report that when azodicarbonamide is heated it degrades and leaves behind small amounts of semicarbazide, which has been found to have cancer-causing properties.
Is It Legal?
Lucky for people in many parts of the world including Europe and Australia, azodicarbonamide is banned. In Singapore the use of the substance is enough to land someone in jail for 15 years and be fined close to half a million dollars. In the UK, it’s referred to as a respiratory sensitizer and is not allowed to be used in food products or even in food packaging.
In the United States, though, the FDA clearly has a different idea of what is safe. They say azodicarbonamide is safe for human consumption if it’s used:
• As an aging and bleaching ingredient in cereal flour in an amount not to exceed 2.05 grams per 100 pounds of flour (45 parts per million).
• As a dough conditioner in bread baking in a total amount not to exceed 45 parts per million by weight of the flour used
They also require the labeling of the additive to include the additive and a statement of the concentration of it in any intermediate premixes.
Based on this, you may want to ask yourself what this means for you, because you have control over what you buy, what you support, and, more importantly, what you put in your body. If you’re in the U.S., next time you buy bread, check the label. Does it include azodicarbonamide? If so, you may want to put it back on the shelf.
Welcome simplicity to your daily decisions about food.
Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual