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Telling Safe Bread From Unsafe Bread

Although tests carried out by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Goa found only 4 of the 29 bread samples – three slice breads and a pizza bread – containing cancer-causing potassium bromate, concerns among consumers continue to grow. While pav samples are totally safe, the same cannot be said of the slice breads and pizza bread bases. Even though potassium bromate was found within permissible limits in the four samples, the FDA needs to do much more to assure the consumers that they are eating safe breads. The FDA has not released the names of breads whose samples were found containing potassium bromate, thus leaving the consumers in confusion about which slice breads are with and which ones without potassium bromate.
Though the permissible limit for potassium bromate (a class 2B carcinogenic generally used by commercial manufacturers) is 50 parts per million as stipulated under the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 of India, many countries have banned its use and there is increasing demand that India too must follow suit. The governing body for food safety in the country, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has also declared that the use of potassium bromate would be stopped, while study on use of potassium iodate, which can cause thyroid-related problems, was under study. So far Indian regulations allow bread manufacturers to use potassium bromate in bread if it is within the permissible limit but there are hardly any checks on whether the manufacturers use it within the permissible limits or not. It is only when some non-government organisation or a private study reveals harmful contents in food products that the government agencies wake up from their slumber. The knee-jerk reaction is normally limited to seizing product samples and testing them. Government agencies have a responsibility to periodically check products for their safety. As consumption of pre-packaged foods is becoming common, agencies like the Goa FDA should constantly monitor food products sold in market so as to ensure that people consume only those foods that were free from harmful contents.
The report of the state FDA, which perhaps was the only government agency in the country to act immediately after the reports of harmful contents in breads appeared in the media following disclosure of the analysis by the Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi, has not served any purpose at all as far as helping the average Goan in choosing safe from unsafe bread. Some of the bread manufacturers had actually declared that they were using additives that were classified as harmful to the health of the people. There is every possibility that ready-to-use flour used for manufacture of bread could be containing the harmful additives and the bakers could be unaware about the contents of the flour. Local ‘poders’ (bakers) could genuinely be unaware of the existence of harmful chemicals in the raw material even though they use traditional method for making bread. With the Indian regulations allowing use of potassium bromate and potassium iodate the FDA cannot act against anyone using the same or selling flour or additives that were within the permissible limits. With the FSSAI set to ban the use of the two harmful additives the FDA would have its role cut out to act to ensure safer food products for Goans.
While the government agencies must ensure that the food products sold in the market were safe for consumption, the general public too has a role to play in eating foods that were free from harmful contents. It is for the consumers to check the labels for the list of ingredients added to the foods, be they pav, sliced bread, pizza or any other prepackaged food to ascertain the contents of the food they choose to eat. The people should make themselves familiar about what is safer for them to eat and try to gain knowledge through various means including internet. Though the government agencies like FDA and health department should check the food products regularly it might be physically impossible for the government agencies to keep a tab on all the food manufacturers at all the time and hence there is need for vigilance and caution on the part of the consumers. The government, particularly the health department and the FDA, must constantly organize programmes to raise the awareness on food safety and consumption of foods that were free from harmful additives. Lists of harmful additives and the effect on health that could be there with consumption of these chemicals should be published periodically so as to warn public to avoid them.

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