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Vani Hari, founder of, made the news when she petitioned Subway to stop using “azodicarbonamide (ADA)” in its breads. Later news reports and investigations revealed that hundreds of companies are using this chemical in foods, and that it could be potentially harmful to our health.

What is ADA?

The chemical formula of ADA is C2H4O2N4. A synthetic, crystalline powder, it’s used in the production of plastics and synthetic leather—thus, it’s nickname as the “yoga mat” chemical. ADA is also an FDA-approved food additive, known as “E927.”

Companies like using the chemical in breads as it works as a flour-bleaching agent, making bread look uniformly white. It’s also considered a “dough conditioner,” improving the dough’s ability to retain air, making the bread more elastic and better able to withstand shipping and shelf storage.

The FDA states that it approved ADA based on a “comprehensive review of safety studies, including multi-year feeding studies.” Questions remain on the safety of this ingredient, however, particularly because of its widespread use.

Concern Spreading About ADA

A number of agencies have expressed concerns about ADA. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) released a report stating the chemical was found in over 500 items and in more than 130 brands of “bread, bread stuffing and snacks, including many advertised as ‘healthy.’” They go on to note that ADA is not a food, but an industrial chemical “added to bread for the convenience of industrial bakers.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) linked ADA with respiratory issues and asthma in workers regularly exposed to the chemical. The U.K. Health and Safety Executive also identified it as a respiratory sensitizer and a potential cause of asthma in workplace settings. Both Australia and Europe have banned ADA as a food additive.

In the U.S., the FDA allows only 45 parts per million of ADA in foods.  But, research shows it breaks down during baking into two other chemicals considered potentially toxic that even has the FDA taking a second look.

Byproduct Chemicals are Carcinogens

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) states that when heated, ADA breaks down, releasing semicarbazide (SEM) and urethane. Semicarbazide, they state, caused lung and blood vessel cancers in animal studies, but so far has shown negligible risks in humans. Urethane, on the other hand, is a known carcinogen.

The FDA states that it is currently collecting data on the amounts of SEM found in baked goods sold in the U.S. “Additionally,” they state, “FDA is reviewing all available data on the safety of SEM and plans to reassess potential customer exposure to it from bread products based on data from our current survey.”

They go on to note that at high levels, SEM has been found to increase the risk of cancerous tumors, and that in 2005, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) determined that exposure to SEM should be limited where possible.

Subway has released a statement saying they are in the process of removing ADA from their breads. Dunkin’ Donuts has stated they are evaluating their use of it, and Starbucks is transitioning to a new brand of products that don’t contain the chemical. There are many other fast food and bakery brands that are still using ADA, however, and have not expressed any desire to change. For more information on which brands use it and which ones don’t, check out Goodguide’s page on the subject.

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