That footlong loaf baking in your local Subway’s oven could contain an ingredient called azodicarbonamide. It’s an additive the U.S. Food and Drug Administration permits for use in restricted amounts to strengthen dough and to increase the shelf life of bread, and as a bleaching ingredient in cereal flour—it also happens to be used in plastics and rubber. After a petition launched this week, the ubiquitous sandwich chain announced on Wednesday that it will stop using the additive, though it did not say when.
Azodicarbonamide—banned from use in food in Europe and Australia—is used in the U.S. in Subway’s 9-grain wheat bread, Italian bread, and sourdough bread [PDF]. In Canada it’s in deli-style rolls and Italian bread [PDF]. It can also be found in buns at other restaurant chains and in some grocery aisle breads.
Chatter about the use of the additive in food grew in 2011. This week, FoodBabe.com blogger Vani Hari started a petition asking Subway to remove azodicarbonamide from its breads; so far, Hari’s garnered more than 66,000 signatures. The company said it was working on reformulating the recipe before the petition was launched, reported the Associated Press.
Two suspicious chemicals form when bread with azodicarbonamide is baked, according to nonprofit advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest: urethane, a recognized carcinogen, and semicarbazide, which causes cancers of the lung and blood vessels in mice, but poses a negligible risk to humans. In a statement on Tuesday, the organization urged the FDA to consider banning the ingredient.
In its industrial form for use in plastic and rubber, azodicarbonamide is associated with asthma and other allergic reactions.
“We are already in the process of removing azodicarbonamide as part of our bread improvement efforts despite the fact that it is a USDA and FDA approved ingredient. The complete conversion to have this product out of the bread will be done soon,” Subway said in an e-mailed statement.