Read Your Labels: The “Brominated Brothers”: Still at Large Despite a Bad Rap Sheet

From our Read Your Labels Campaign, an installment in the series “Top Ten Food Additives to Avoid”, courtesy of


The next ingredient to avoid in our Read Your Labels campaign should have been banned in the U.S. decades ago. It has been known to cause cancer in laboratory animals for over 30 years, and the evidence of its toxic nature is so compelling that this additive has been banned in many countries, including Europe, China, Canada, and Brazil.

In the United States, however, it can still be found in processed foods ranging from breads to tortillas to knishes. The only good thing we can say about this additive is that its use is on the decline, no doubt due to some really bad press over the years, but you still have to be on the lookout to avoid it. Read on to learn how keep this unnecessary, toxic ingredient out of your diet.

Number 7: Potassium bromate

Used to “improve” flour and make more uniform, attractive bakery products, potassium bromate (or bromated flour) has been on the list of carcinogens in California since 1991. And while many other countries have banned its use entirely, the Food and Drug Administration  has merely asked the baking industry to voluntarily stop using it.

According to the American Bakers Association, if potassium bromate is used “properly” no detectable residues will be found; however, if too much is used, or any number of other procedures are not followed (such as proper temperature settings or baking time) a residue of this carcinogenic additive will end up in the finished product.

According to The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), FDA tests going back to 1992 and 1998 found levels of bromate in “several dozen baked goods” that would be “considered unsafe by the agency (FDA).” One sample, CSPI noted in a press release “had almost 1,000 times the detection limit.”

In 1999 CSPI submitted a petition to the Food and Drug Administration to ban this additive, saying that “The FDA has known since 1982 that potassium bromate can cause tumors of the kidney, thyroid and other organs in animals,” with additional studies over the years all confirming its toxic properties.

While some commercial brands have replaced potassium bromate with other dough-enhancing additives, brominated flour is still widely used in restaurants and bakeries. General Mills, makers of Pillsbury and Gold Medal brand flours, offers no less than 22 different brominated flours at its “professional baking solutions” site. Bottom line: if a bakery can’t tell you what ingredients it uses in making its cakes, cookies and bread, it’s time to find another bakery. The oddest product that we found potassium bromate in – considering its big “benefit” is to promote yeast rising — was New York brand flatbreads.

This leads us to another nasty bromine additive…

Number 6: Brominated vegetable oil

This Mountain Dew also contains almost 12 teaspoons of HFCS

While PepsiCo got lots of kudos back in January when it announced that it would be removing brominated vegetable oil, or BVO, from one of its Gatorade products, that doesn’t mean it’s gone from the marketplace.  In fact, PepsiCo continues to use BVO in other beverages it makes, such as Mountain Dew

BVO, which used in food and beverages for the highly important cosmetic purpose of keeping their ingredients all  neatly blended together, builds up in fatty tissue and has been shown to cause heart damage in research animals. But while it is banned as a food additive in many other places, including Europe, India and Japan, its  status has been in limbo at the FDA for over three decades.

BVO is especially apt to be found in in orange and other citrus-flavored  beverages, so be sure and check their ingredients carefully before buying them..

Breaking news on the HFCS front

Consumer groups and public health departments from around the country recently submitted a petition to the FDA asking the agency to set a safe level of added sugars in drinks. Of course when you’re talking beverages, especially soda, those “sugars” will most likely be in the form of high fructose corn syrup, which one of the groups involved, CSPI says is currently at “unsafe levels.”

That’s not hard to believe when one considers the vast amount of foods and drinks that still contain this test-tube sweetener. To get an idea of just how much HFCS is manufactured, you need look no further than the Corn Refiners Association’s “Corn Annual,” which lists an unbelievable shipment total for HFCS in 2012 of over 19 billion pounds!

Hopefully, those amounts will go down the same way potassium bromate use has begun to diminish – although it will only happen if enough consumers ‘just say no’ to products containing this cheap synthetic sweetener that’s a major suspect in the obesity epidemic.

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[…] Brominated vegetable oil or BVO – is vegetable oil that has had atoms of the element bromine bonded to it. Brominated vegetable oil is used to stabilize citrus-flavored soft drinks and has been used by the soft drink industry since 1931. It is found in some Gatorade products, Mountain Dew and other drinks containing citrus flavorings and its high density helps the droplets of natural fat-soluble citrus flavors stay suspended in the drink. BVO builds up in fatty tissue and has been shown to cause heart damage in research animals. It’s banned in Europe, India and Japan and has never been declared safe by the FDA, where its status has remained in limbo  for over 30 years. The United States Food and Drug Administration considers BVO to be safe for use as a food additive. BVO is one of four substances that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has defined as interim food additives; the other three are acrylonitrile copolymers, mannitol, and saccharin. […]

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