Report Finds Hundreds of Foods With Controversial Chemical

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is calling on food manufacturers to stop using a chemical used to make bread, after a recent report found the controversial chemical is used in more than 500 food products.  

An analysis conducted by the EWG found that the potentially harmful industrial chemical azodicarbonamide (ADA), frequently used as a dough conditioner in bread, is used in nearly 500 different food products by more than 130 brands.

Many large, national brands use the chemical to condition bread, making it puffier and giving it a longer shelf life. Brands like Wonder, Sara Lee, Pillsbury, Kroger, Jimmy Dean, Little Debbie and Tyson use the chemical; as well as products marketed as “natural” or “healthy,” such as Fiber One, Healthy Life and Earthgrains.

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ADA is an industrial chemical that is used in the plastic industry. It is added to various plastic products, such as yoga mats and flip flops, to make the products strong, yet light and malleable.

The chemical was first created in 1956, later approved for use by the FDA in 1962. Chemists found they could add the compound to commercial baked goods to make it easier to handle dough and make baked products fluffier and last longer.

Before it became widely used in the baking industry, flour had to age for several months before it could be kneaded into dough. ADA allowed bakers to skip the lengthy aging process.

Potassium bromate was initially the preferred dough conditioner, however after the introduction of California’s Proposition 65, the chemical was labeled carcinogenic and ADA was substituted 1991.

Focus On Safety

The EWG is a consumer advocacy group focused on environmental health and research with a mission to educate consumers and inspire healthier food.

As such, the EWG is warning consumers to avoid eating products made with ADA and is calling on manufacturers to stop using the chemical immediately. “ADA is not food,” the EWG warned in a statement citing the recent report detailing the extensive products which use ADA.

“ADA is just one example of an American food supply awash in chemical additives that can be mixed into foods with little oversight or safety review,” said David Andrews, Ph.D., EWG senior scientist and co-author for the analysis. “Americans have regularly eaten this chemical along with hundreds of other questionable food additives for years.”

ADA gained media attention recently after an online petition was started by food blogger Vani Hari, of, calling on Subway to remove the chemical from its bread. Subway responded in kind by halting its use of ADA, however many other fast food companies continue to use the chemical, including McDonald’s and Arby’s.

The petition and Subway compliance prompted an appeal by New York Senator Charles E. Schumer, asking the FDA to issue a national ban on the chemical in food, citing the harmful health effects.

Health officials in Europe and Australia banned the chemical after concerns regarding carcinogenic effects surfaced. A 1999 report by the World Health Organization linked ADA to increased asthma, allergies and respiratory issues.

ADA has not undergone extensive testing to fully determine the potential harm it poses to humans. However, the EWG warns consumers to avoid the chemical.

To that end, the EWG created a database to offer consumers a way to determine if the chemicals used in commercial food products are safe for consumption.

The EWG said the database was created to “empower consumers” to make healthier decisions and to “put pressure on food manufacturers to clean up the nation’s food supply.”

The database is still under development but is based on data gathered on food in American supermarkets.

Photo Courtesy of Nick Saltmarsh via Flickr CC 2.0

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