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Possible cancer-causing additive found in pizza crust, bread and crackers

Potassium bromate

Scores of common baked goods contain a possible cancer-causing additive called potassium bromate, according to a new analysis by Environmental Working Group.

(Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)

Scores of common baked goods contain potassium bromate, a possible cancer-causing additive, according to a new analysis by Environmental Working Group. The nonprofit agency found the chemical in 86 breads and other baked goods, including such well-known products as Hormel Foods breakfast sandwiches, Weis Kaiser rolls and French toast, and Goya turnover pastry dough.

The analysis, titled “Potassium Bromate: Was Your Bread Baked with Flour Containing a Possible Cancer-Causing Additive?,” details the potential health problems associated with this ingredient. EWG included this ingredient in its “Dirty Dozen Guide to Food Additives” in November 2014, which highlighted 12 additives to avoid.

Potassium bromate is added to flour to firm up the dough, help it rise and give the finished bread a fresh white color. However, it has been linked in animal studies to cancer and tumors. Research also has shown that it can damage genetic material in human liver and intestinal cells, causing “breaks in DNA strands and chromosomal damage,” according to EWG’s analysis.  

“In light of the evidence showing its potential harm to human health, it’s alarming that companies continue to use potassium bromate in their breads and other baked goods,” said Nneka Leiba, EWG’s deputy director of research and co-author of the report. “With our new analysis, we hope to shine a light on this unnecessary additive and pressure companies to find better ingredients for their products.”

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EWG analysts determined the number of products containing the additive using Food Scores, an online tool that provides information on more than 82,000 foods and 5,000 ingredients. The EWG website includes a full list of foods with potassium bromate, which includes everything from crackers to egg rolls to meatballs.

The group has launched a consumer petition to urge food manufacturers to stop using the additive.

Because of the health concerns linked to the chemical, a number of countries — including the United Kingdom, Canada and Brazil, as well as the European Union — have restricted or banned its use in food. California, the only state that regulates potassium bromate, requires a Prop. 65-mandated warning label on food containing it.

“We urge consumers to exercise caution with potassium bromate and avoid it whenever possible,” said Jose Aguayo, EWG database analyst and co-author of the analysis.

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