No more "yoga mat" chemical in Subway's bread, thanks to consumer pressure

Until this past February, it would have been illegal for Subway to sell its American-made sandwiches in Europe and Australia. Why? Because they contained a toxic, flammable ingredient that is banned in those other countries but continues to be used in North America. The ingredient is azodicarbonamide (ADA), a chemical foaming agent that’s used to make spongy, strong, malleable plastic products such as yoga mats and the soles of running shoes. In the food industry, ADA is used as a “dough conditioner,” which helps make the dough easier to handle and the final product puffier and tough enough to withstand shipping and storage.

According to the Environmental Working Group, which is in the process of putting together a new food database, ADA is found in nearly 500 items and exists in more than 130 brands of breads and baked goods, even many that are labeled “healthy.” ADA is found in products from Starbucks, Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Arby’s, Burger King, and Dunkin’ Donuts. You can find EWG’s full list of items containing ADA right here.

Subway, in the meantime, has agreed to ban ADA from its bread, thanks to a petition launched by Vani Hari of FoodBabe.com. The company had always maintained that the additive is harmless, even though workers handling large quantities of ADA have reported allergies, asthma, and skin irritation. As Hari points out in her promotional video clip for the petition, when a truck containing ADA overturned near Chicago in 2001, all residents within a half-mile were evacuated because of fear of contamination. No matter what the food industry says, it’s clear that ADA is not something that most of us want to ingest. (Yum, a yoga mat sandwich, anyone?)

It’s good to see that Subway has responded to consumer pressure, especially considering that just weeks ago Michelle Obama endorsed the company for having a kids’ menu that met “the highest nutrition standards” and is working with Subway to launch a healthy foods campaign aimed at children. (I expressed my doubts about Subway’s health claims in a post last week: “Subway’s new campaign won’t really teach kids about nutrition.”) Even if Subway is no longer making yoga mat sandwiches, it’s important to keep in mind that there are lots of companies out there that continue to do so, and the responsibility continues to lie with consumers to avoid ADA in other products.

This is yet another reminder of how important it is to eat real food, not processed, synthetic-additive-laden foodish products. Keep in mind one of Michael Pollan’s wise Food Rules: “Don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients, or ingredients you can’t pronounce.” The good news, too, is that making homemade bread that’s guaranteed to be ADA-free is actually incredibly easy. Check out this famous recipe for no-knead, slow-rise artisanal bread and you’ll never want to buy supermarket bread again!

Tags: Chemicals | Food Safety | Health