What Not to Eat: Get This Chemical Found in Breads Out of the Food Supply


Found in: Flour improver and bleaching agent: White flour, bread and rolls.

Azodicarbonamide (ADC) has long been used by commercial bakers to strengthen dough, but has been poorly tested. A 1999 review published by several United Nations agencies concluded that “There are no adequate data relating to carcinogenic, reproductive, or developmental effects, hence it is not possible to evaluate the risk to human health for these endpoints.”


Most of the concern about ADC relates to two suspicious chemicals that form when bread is baked. The first chemical is semicarbazide (SEM), which caused cancers of the lung and blood vessels in mice. It did not cause cancer in rats. In 1976 the International Agency for Research on Cancer considered SEM to be a carcinogen in mice, but in 1987 concluded that the animal data were “limited” and that SEM was “not classifiable” as to its carcinogenicity to humans.

A second breakdown product, urethane, is a recognized carcinogen. ADC used at its maximum allowable level (45 ppm in bread) leads to levels of urethane in bread that pose a small risk to humans. Toasting that bread increases the amount of urethane. However, when used at 20 ppm, which may be the amount used by some commercial bakeries, a 1997 FDA study found “only a slight increase” in urethane. (Some urethane forms in bread not made with azodicarbonamide.)

Considering that many breads don’t contain azodicarbonamide and that its use slightly increases exposure to a carcinogen, this is hardly a chemical that we need in our food supply. It appears that the Delaney amendment, which bars the use of additives that cause cancer in humans or animals, would require FDA to bar its use. At the very least, FDA should reduce the amount allowed to be used.

Other relevant links:

• Can estrogen-like chemicals cause breast cancer? See: Food Safety: Can Environmental Estrogens Cause Breast Cancer?

• Potentially dangerous food dyes. See: Food Dyes: A Rainbow of Food Safety Risks

• The food industry to limit levels of acrylamide. See: Food Industry Needs to Follow FDA Draft Guidance on Acrylamide

4 Replies to “What Not to Eat: Get This Chemical Found in Breads Out of the Food Supply”

  1. BOTTOM LINE ON TOP: the additive in bread is a trivial addition to urethane consumption compared to the addition due to regular drinking of wine.

    The original article can be found at Pubmed: The carcinogenic potential of ethyl carbamate (urethane): risk assessment at human dietary exposure levels. Food Chem Toxicol. 1990 Mar;28(3):205-11.

    I quote the relevant information about urethane (Ethyl carmamate) from the abstract:

    “Ethyl carbamate is found in fermented foods: bread contains 3-15 ng/g, stone-fruit brandies 200-20,000 ng/g, and about one-third of table-wine samples analysed contained more than 10 ng/g.”

    “On the basis of sex- and organ-specific tumour data and with a linear extrapolation to a negligible increase of the lifetime tumour incidence by 0.0001% (one additional tumour in one million individuals exposed for life), a “virtually safe dose” of 20 to 80 ng/kg body weight/day was estimated. The daily burden reached under normal dietary habits without alcoholic beverages is in the range of about 20 ng/kg body weight/day. Regular table-wine consumption would increase the risk by a factor of up to five. Regular drinking of 20 to 40 ml stone-fruit brandy per day could raise the calculated lifetime tumour risk to near 0.01%.”

    So, the additive in bread is a trivial addition compared to the addition due to regular drinking of wine.

    I suggest that you try to place health risks in context!

  2. I don’t doubt the information you provided above, however I have one problem: Most people don’t start drinking alcohol at least until their teens (hopefully later!) but most people who eat bread do so starting as soon as they start eating solid foods. Most carcinogens are cumulative in their effects on the human body, so every little bit hurts, and eliminating each bit can help. Not to mention, I would think those who are aware of urethane content in alcohol, (also a small minority, I’m sure) are even less aware of it’s presence in everyday foods like bread.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *