Potassium Bromate: Bread Conditioner Causes Cancer, Banned in UK

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Whole Foods does not sell products containing potassium bromate. Photo by:

Whole Foods does not sell products containing potassium bromate. Photo by: M.O. Stevens

If potassium bromate is dangerous enough to be banned all around the world, why are we still eating it here in the U.S.? Perhaps the United States is way behind the times with not banning this ingredient.

Potassium bromate has been banned in many countries including the United Kingdom in 1990 and Canada in 1994 – that’s more than 19 years ago! Potassium bromate has been linked to cancer in  laboratory animals, but we still use it in breads and baked goods here in the States.

What is Potassium Bromate?

Potassium bromate is a flour enhancer that makes dough stronger and allows for better oven spring, higher rising, and faster mixing times, according to King Arthur Flour – a company that does not use bromated flour. When used within the prescribed limits of 15-30ppm, it is cooked up in the baking process and leaves no trace in the actual bread product. However, if the recipe exceeds the appropriate amounts of potassium bromate, or if you don’t bake the bread at a high enough temperature or long enough, then there will be residual amounts of potassium bromate in the bread.

Cancer in Your Bread?

Countries around the world have banned potassium bromate because researchers have found that it causes cancer in rats. Researchers found the first cancer links in 1982; instead of banning the ingredient, the FDA encouraged bakers to stop using it voluntarily.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer reports that in several studies where mice, rats, and hamsters were given potassium bromate via oral administration, they produced renal and thyroid tumors. Since there was inadequate evidence in humans, potassium bromate is listed as a Group2B  – this means that it possibly causes cancer in humans. Since we don’t have any long-term studies on humans, we don’t know the long term health effects for people. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that is it’s a probable cause for cancer, but cannot officially determine the cancer risk due to the lack of studies conducted on humans.

Avoiding Potassium Bromate

If you are in California, it’s fairly simple to avoid flour and bakery items that contain potassium bromate, since the state requires these products to have a warning label on them. If you live outside of California, you’ll have to read the ingredients list for potassium bromate or ‘bromated flour.’ King Arthur Flour and Bob’s Red Mill are two brands that do not contain potassium bromate. If you aren’t into reading the labels of every bread product out there, shop at Whole Foods – they say they will not sell products with potassium bromate, as it is considered, by the company, as an ‘unacceptable ingredient for food.’

What’s In Our Food?

Americans are starting to uncover what’s really in our food. From artificial coloring to genetically modified foods and even growth stimulants in our meat, we have a right to know what is in our food, where it comes from, and how it was made. If an ingredient causes cancer, and other countries agree that it’s not safe, then why do we still have it in the U.S. food system? Although we can’t control what grocers sell, if you’d like to change the contents of your local grocery store, vote with your money and purchase organic foods.

Resources:

International Agency for Research on Cancer. Potassium Bromate. (1999). Accessed March 21, 2013.

King Author Flour. Bromate Fact Sheet. Accessed March 21, 2013.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Bromate. (2013). Accessed March 22, 2013.

Whole Foods. Unacceptable Ingredients for Food. Accessed March 22, 2013.

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