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Potassium bromate in same cancer class as coffee
Jun 18, 2016

Why Potassium bromate in News:

A new study by Delhi-based non-profit Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has shown that 84 per cent of bread and bakery samples collected from the city contain residues of potassium bromate, potassium iodate or both. Potassium bromate (KBrO3) and potassium iodate (KIO3) are chemical food additives which, according to Indian food regulations, can be used by bread makers and bakeries as flour treatment agents. Potassium bromate helps achieve high rising and a uniform finish. But the safety of these additives is under a cloud.

  • CSE report said that while one of the chemicals is a category 2B carcinogen (possibly carcinogenic to humans), the other could trigger thyroid disorders but India has not banned their use.


Result of CSE test:

  • Thirty two of 38 samples or more than 84 per cent of samples tested were found to contain potassium bromate and/or iodate in the range of 1.15–22.54 ppm (parts per million). Moreover, residues of potassium bromate and/or iodate were found in all product categories tested by PML (see ‘A grim report card’).
  • All samples of white bread, pav, bun and ready-to-eat pizza bread were found to contain potassium bromate and/or iodate. Nineteen of 24 samples or 79 per cent of bread and about 75 per cent of ready-to-eat burger bread also tested positive for the chemicals.
  • The highest level of potassium bromate and/or iodate was found in sandwich bread. This was followed bypav, bun and white bread. Even the average level of the residues was high in these product categories.
  • Products of Perfect Bread, Harvest Gold and Britannia were found to contain high average levels of potassium bromate and/or iodate. Harvest Gold Sandwich bread had the highest concentration of the chemicals.
  • Products of all seven popular fast food outlets selling pizza and burger tested positive for potassium bromate and/or iodate, but at levels lower than those found in bread, pav and bun.


  • Potassium bromate, or simply called bromate, is an oxidiser used to strengthen dough and enhance its elasticity.
  • This helps bake uniform and whitened bread.
  • Typically 15-30 parts per million (ppm) of potassium bromate is added to dough. Normally, baking changes its chemical composition and renders it harmless, leaving no trace in the finished product. However, if too much of the additive is used, or the bread is not baked long enough or at a high enough temperature, then a residual amount will remain.

Why Potassium bromate is preferred:

Potassium bromate is cheaper and more widely available than other food additives, and gives a better end-product. In a low-margin, high-volume and perishable food product like bread, cost and end-product does matter.

How it harms:

  • In 1964, an expert committee administered by the World Health Organisation and Food and Agriculture Organization started evaluating potassium bromate.
  • In 1983, it temporarily accepted a limit of 75 ppm provided there are negligible residues in the end product, on the understanding that all bromate gets converted into bromide during baking.
  • This limit was later reduced to 60 ppm. After long-term studies, potassium bromate was considered a ‘genotoxic carcinogen’.
  • In 1992, the committee decided that using potassium bromate as a flour treatment agent was “not appropriate”, also considering there were alternatives.
  • In 1999, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified potassium bromate as possibly carcinogenic to humans.
  • In 2012, the Codex Alimentarius, an international food safety reference agency run by the WHO and FAO, formally withdrew specifications of potassium bromate in line with the expert committee view.

Practice in other countries:

  • The European Union, China, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Canada, Australia, Brazil, Peru and Columbia have banned the use of potassium bromate as a flour treatment agent.
  • The EU has banned potassium iodate as well. India and the US continue to allow use of potassium bromate in permissible limits.
  • India allows use of potassium bromate and/or iodate up to 50 ppm on flour mass basis
  • while the US allows it up to 75 ppm and manufacturers must list the ingredient on food labels. However, the US officially urges bakers not to use potassium bromate; in California, food containing potassium is required to have a warning label. Many US bread and bakery manufacturers have voluntarily stopped using it.

Ban Or No Ban

Alternatives to this:

Ascorbic acid or Vitamin-C is considered a healthy alternative to potassium bromate. Glucose oxidase is another option approved by FSSAI in 2015. Other food improvers and flour treatment agents approved by law include ammonium persulphate, ammonium chloride and amylases.

Recommendation of CSE:

  • The FSSAI should prohibit the use of potassium bromate in making bread and bakery products with immediate effect. Considering that it can cause cancer, is banned in most parts of the world, and has healthy alternatives, there is no reason why this chemical should be allowed, specifically when residues are found to be present in the end-product. Complete prohibition would ensure that this chemical is not used in improver mix, as part of maida or flour for bakery. It will also ensure that it is not used in proprietary foods such as ready-to-eat burger bread and ready-to-eat pizza bread which don’t carry any labelling according to current laws.
  • The use of potassium iodate as a flour treatment agent in bread and other bakery products should not be allowed by the FSSAI. It is not recommended as a flour treatment agent in several countries due to possible higher intake of iodine which can potentially affect the functioning of thyroid.
  • BIS should amend relevant available standards. This would ensure that both potassium bromate and potassium iodate are not allowed as improver/flour treatment agents in bread and bakery products.

Source: theHindu, livemint, downtoearth

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