Bread samples of virtually all top brands in Delhi contained cancer-causing chemicals, a study released on Monday said, prompting the Union Health Ministry to order a probe.
Nearly 84 percent of 38 commonly available brands of pre-packaged breads including pav and buns, tested positive for potassium bromate and potassium iodate, banned in many countries as they are listed as "hazardous" for public health, the report by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) said .
It claimed 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 ban their use.
The bread samples which were tested included brands such as Britannia, Harvest Gold and the fast food chains -KFC, Pizza Hut, Domino's, Subway, McDonald s and Slice of Italy.
Britannia, KFC, Domino's, McDonald's and Subway denied that these chemicals were used in their products. Other brands did not comment despite repeated attempts.
Reacting to the CSE report, Health Minister J P Nadda said,"We are seized of the matter. I have told my officials to report to me on an urgent basis. There is no need to panic.
Very soon we will come out with the (probe) report."
CSE's Pollution Monitoring Laboratory (PML) tested 38 commonly available branded varieties of pre-packaged breads, pav and buns, ready-to-eat burger bread and ready-to-eat pizza breads of popular fast food outlets from Delhi.
"We found 84 per cent samples positive with potassium bromate or iodate. We re-confirmed the presence of potassium bromate or iodate in a few samples through an external third-party laboratory. We checked labels and talked to industry and scientists.
"Our study confirms the widespread use of potassium bromate or iodate as well as presence of bromate or iodate residues in the final product," said Chandra Bhushan, deputy director general, CSE.
The study found that 84 per cent (32/38) samples were found with potassium bromate or iodate in the range of 1.15-22.54 parts per million (ppm).
Around 79 per cent (19/24) samples of packaged bread, all samples of white bread, pav, bun and ready-to-eat pizza bread and 75 per cent (3/4) samples of ready-to-eat burger bread were positive.
CSE said, "High levels of potassium bromate/iodate were found in sandwich bread, pav, bun and white bread" involving virtually all top brands.
CSE has urged food regulator FSSAI to ban the use of potassium bromate and potassium iodate with immediate effect and prevent their routine exposure to Indian population.
Reacting to the issue, Britannia denied using Potassium Bromate or Iodate and said,"All Britannia breads products are in 100 per cent compliance to the existing food safety regulations as stipulated by FSSAI."
In a statement, it, however, said that as per FSSAI, for potassium Bromate/Iodate the permissible limit is 50 ppm max (On flour mass basis).
"The CSE report clearly states that the third part lab report did not find Potassium Bromate or Iodate in Britannia Bread samples. Britannia will however scrutinize the possibility of any residual presence of these compounds through any of the primary raw materials used in the bread manufacturing process," it said.
Echoing similar reactions, KFC said,"The safety and health of our customers is our top most priority and we are committed to following the best international standards and serving the highest quality products to customers.
"We have stringent processes in place to ensure that the food we serve complies with requirements laid down by FSSAI and is absolutely safe for consumption," it said.
McDonald's India also strongly denied the "claims and accusations" and termed it "completely baseless".
"McDonald's India does not use potassium bromate or potassium iodate in the flour and all other ingredients that goes into our buns. The claims made by CSE in their press release and report are completely baseless.
"We serve our customers with the highest quality products across all our restaurants. We go through a lot of efforts to ensure our food is safe for our customers and have stringent quality processes at every stage," said Vikram Ogale, Director, National Supply Chain and Quality Assurance at McDonald's India.
Subway meanwhile said that there seems to be a "confusion" as there is no such item as "Subway Subz Burger", (which was analyzed by CSE) on its menu.
"We would like to inform you that subway does not use Potassium Bromate and Potassium Iodate in the flour utilized in baking its breads. Instead, Subway uses a bread improver, based on an enzyme (protein) technology derived from natural sources to improve the overall performance of its breads," it said.
Jubilant FoodWorks Limited, which owns Domino's, said that it adheres to the highest quality standards and Indian food laws and follow all process to maintain the highest level of food safety across all our restaurants.
"We do undertake certificate of analysis/undertaking from our flour suppliers on no usage of Potassium Bromate/Potassium Iodate in our flour supplies. We also carry out regular assessments of the flour to ensure compliance in this regards," it said.
Slice of Italy also denied of allegations of using potassium bromate or iodate in its bread.
"We (Slice of Italy) have already denied use of the chemicals like potassium bromate/iodate to CSE and have also informed them about it. We are using only permissible preservatives in our products", said Slice of Italy Additional General Manager (Operations) Cibichen M L.
All India Bread Manufacturers Association President Ramesh Mago said, "We have not seen the report of CSE on presence of potassium bromate in different bread brands collected by them from Delhi market about a year back (May 2015). Only after going through the contents of the report in detail, we will be able to give our response and considered views regarding the issue."
The FSSAI regulations permits the use of Potassium Bromate and/or Potassium Iodate at 50ppm maximum for bread and at 20ppm maximum in 'maida' for bakery purpose under food products standards, he said in a statement.
It is also pertinent to highlight the fact that this same additive is considered to be safe and is widely used in advanced countries like the US, he added.