The sandwich chain, Subway, made headlines in recent days for announcing it would no longer use a tongue-twisting synthetic chemical in the loaves of bread made and sold at its sandwich shops. While this voluntary action may seem commendable, it came after much prodding from a food blogger and, even if you never go to Subway, you’re probably eating plenty of the chemical anyway. The chemical, azodicarbonamide (ADA), gained notoriety as the yoga mat chemical but it’s in hundreds of food products many Americans eat every day.
According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), ADA makes things such as yoga mats, flip-flops, protective padding for cell phones, and foam insulation for homes generate tiny gas bubbles that make these materials lightweight, spongy, malleable, and strong. That’s exactly what it does to bread, too.
Before 1962, flour had to be aged for several months before it matured enough to be properly kneaded in bread dough in industrial-size batches. In 1956, Wallace & Tiernan, a firm specializing in chemicals, engineering, and pharmaceuticals, discovered that adding ADA to flour eliminated the need for the lengthy wait to knead. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved its use in 1962. The chemical has never been approved for use in the European Union nations or in Australia.
Blogger Vani Hari, creator of the blog, FoodBabe.com, does not want synthetic chemicals in the foods she eats so she and other health activists distributed a petition calling on Subway to clean up its bread recipes and get rid of the ADA. Subway’s public response was that ADA was perfectly safe but, in response to growing consumer demand for healthier foods as well as increased consumer scrutiny of ingredient lists on labels, the sandwich chain had already been quietly looking for ways to eliminate the chemical from their recipes.
The EWG was founded in Washington, DC, in 1993, as a research- and advocacy-focused non-profit organization “to use the power of public information to protect public health and the environment.” The EWG has a massive food database in development that will describe and define each ingredient of every item sold on American supermarket shelves. Nutritional value, degree of processing, and potential health hazards will be included in the database, expected to be available to the public in the fall of 2014.
Until that database is ready for public use, the EWG published a list called “Nearly 500 Watys to Make a Yoga Mat Sandwich," which contains a list of nearly 500 foods containing azodicarbonamide. Each ADA-laced food product is listed by brand name and product name. All are breads and bread-based food products such as pizza, sliders, breakfast sandwiches, croutons, and bread mixes.
Source: Andrews, David, and Elaine Shannon. “Nearly 500 ways to make a yoga mat sandwich.” Environmental Working Group. Environmental Working Group. Feb 27, 2014. Web. Mar 6, 2014.