This post has been updated.
Azodicarbonamide is a chemical commonly found in yoga mats, the foamy soles of running shoes — and many popular sandwich breads, as food writer Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl recently noted in an Experience Life column.
This month, Subway announced that it was dropping the ingredient from its bread recipe. The move is an apparent bow to public pressure after a petition lambasting the restaurant chain for its use of the chemical food additive — a suspected carcinogen used to make bread fluffy — garnered tens of thousands of signatures.
“The complete conversion to have this product out of the bread will be done soon,” Subway said in a statement to the Associated Press.
Subway is among many restaurants and grocery stores to use azodicarbonamide to whiten dough and speed up the bread-baking process. It is listed as an ingredient in the restaurant chain’s 9-Grain Wheat, Italian (white), and Sourdough breads.
According to the Environmental Working Group, azodicarbonamide is found in about 500 items and in more than 130 brands of bread, snacks, and other products. (See the EWG’s full list: Nearly 500 Ways to Make a Yoga Mat Sandwich.)
Azodicarbonamide is approved by the USDA and FDA for human consumption, but it is banned in Europe, the United Kingdom, and Australia.
“It’s not supposed to be food or even eaten for that matter,” Hari wrote on her website. “And it’s definitely not ‘fresh,’” she noted, alluding to Subway’s motto, “Eat Fresh.”
Within 24 hours of posting the petition on Tuesday, February 4, more than 50,000 people had signed. Subway, which has marketed its products as healthy fast food and has endorsement deals with some Olympic athletes, announced that it was in the process of removing the ingredient two days later.
(RELATED: FDA moves to phase out trans fats in food)
A report published by the World Health Organization in 1999 suggests that azodicarbonamide has been linked to asthma and skin sensitivity in people who work in facilities where the chemical is manufactured. And as Moskowitz Grumdahl wrote for Experience Life in September 2013:
In 2001, a semi-trailer full of the chemical overturned on the Dan Ryan Expressway in Chicago, and authorities deemed it so dangerous that motorists and residents near the accident were ordered to abandon their cars and evacuate their homes. …
Azodicarbonamide is just one of the more than 5,000 nonfood substances that are routinely added to processed food, Melanie Warner explains in her book Pandora’s Lunchbox: How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal.
(Azodicarbonamide it breaks down into a known carcinogen by the name of semicarbazide when heated. Needless to say, both bread and doughnuts require heat to assume their forms.)
Despite the additive’s status as a suspected carcinogen, it is unclear, however, if and how exposure levels in food — which are less than levels found in manufacturing and transportation situations — may affect health.
“One thing is clear,” according to the EWG. “[Azodicarbonamide] is not food, as food has been defined for most of human history. It is an industrial chemical added to bread for the convenience of industrial bakers.”
Tell us: What do you think of Subway’s decision to remove azodicarbonamide from its sandwich breads? Leave a comment below or tweet us @ExperienceLife.
Maggie Fazeli Fard is Experience Life's staff writer.