Potassium bromate and iodate: Why the presence of these chemicals in bread can harm you

All hell broke loose after a study found cancer-causing chemicals in bread samples of virtually all top brands on Monday.

Nearly 84 percent of 38 commonly available brands of pre-packaged breads including pav and buns, tested positive for potassium bromate and potassium iodate, banned in many countries as they are listed as "hazardous" for public health, the report by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) said.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

But what are these chemicals which are the cause of this sudden panic in the country?

According to CSE, potassium bromate (KBrO3) is a chemical which is classified as a category 2B carcinogen (something possibly carcinogenic to human beings). Potassium iodate (KIO3) is a chemical which can contribute to thyroid-related diseases.

According to a report in The Hindu, potassium bromate takes the form of white crystals or powder.

The CSE report further said that potassium bromate is used as a flour treatment agent in bread and other bakery products because it is a powerful oxidising agent which makes the bread fluffy, soft and gives it a good finish. Under the perfect baking conditions, potassium bromate converts into bromide, a harmless chemical. But this does not happen in practice, the report added.

An NDTV report also said that potassium bromate makes the bread look white and enhances its elasticity. A 1982 research from Japan stated that it could also cause cancer in rats and mice. Another report by Zee News said that studies revealed that potassium bromate was a "genotoxic carcinogen", which is a chemical agent that damages genetic information and hence causes mutations.

The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) said that a person may require medical attention if he or she is exposed to potassium bromate through the skin or eyes or if the person ingests it.

However, the report in The Hindu also said that potassium bromate was "in the same league" as coffee, aloe vera, mobile phone radiation and carbon black (which is an ingredient in eye-liner). It further said that the chemical is actually less toxic than processed and red meat.

The CSE report further said that the use of potassium iodate as a flour treatment agent in bread could lead to higher consumption of iodine. The European Food Safety Agency, in its scientific opinion of 2014, said that the chronic excessive iodine consumption "may accelerate the development of sub-clinical thyroid disorders to overt hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism, increase the incidence of autoimmune thyroiditis and increase the risk of thyroid cancer."

Union Health Minister JP Nadda had said on Tuesday that he has asked the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) to take the issue of carcinogenic chemicals in bread seriously and submit a report at the earliest.

"I have told FSSAI to take the matter seriously and submit the report. They are coming out with a report. The Ministry will take appropriate action accordingly. We will take action as soon as the report comes," Nadda had said.

The bread samples which were tested included brands such as Britannia, Harvest Gold and the fast food chains - KFC, Pizza Hut, Domino's, Subway, McDonald’s and Slice of Italy.

Britannia, KFC, Domino's, McDonald's and Subway had denied that these chemicals were used in their products. Other brands did not comment on the issue.

With inputs from PTI

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Updated Date: May 25, 2016 13:17:14 IST

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