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Pizza Crusts and Crackers Are Full of Cancer-Causing Additives

Though it was classified as a potential carcinogen in 1999 and banned in the UK, Canada, and the EU, potassium bromate is still in many American products.
Photo via Flickr user Liza Lagman Sperl

The amount of chemicals in our food is staggering.

From azodicarbonamide—better known as the Subway "yoga mat" chemical—to plain old sodium chloride (a.k.a. table salt), there is no shortage of multisyllabic ingredients making their way into our food supply and bloodstreams. While we tend to think of all of them as evil, that's not always the case. But sometimes it is. And we can now add potassium bromate to that long list.

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Potassium bromate might sound like a horrible British nightclub, but it's actually way worse. It's the type of chemical that is known as a "flour improver" which means that it has the desirable qualities of strengthening dough and allowing it to rise to even greater heights—that's the upside.

READ: A Visual Guide to the Chemicals in Your Food

The downside is that, as far as ingredients go, it's about as artificial as it gets, with all of the cancer-causing, gene-disrupting properties that come along with that.

Since being classified as a potential carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer in 1999, potassium bromate has been banned in United Kingdom, Canada, Brazil, and the European Union, among others, while stateside, only California requires a warning label for the supposedly harmful chemical.

A recent analysis of the flour enhancer titled "Potassium Bromate: Was Your Bread Baked with Flour Containing a Possible Cancer-Causing Additive?" found the presence of the chemical in 86 bread and baked good products, including pizza crust and crackers, which they then listed on their website.

Building on previous research, the nonprofit agency Environmental Working Group (EWG), reiterated the alleged link between potassium bromate and cancer.

"Exposure to potassium bromate increased the incidence of both benign and malignant tumors in the thyroid and peritoneum—the membrane that lines the abdominal cavity," authors Jose Aguayo and Nneka Leiba wrote, adding that "Ingesting potassium bromate resulted in significant increases in cancer of the animals' kidneys, thyroid and other organs."

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And if that weren't bad enough, it seems as though the leavening agent may even be altering human genetic code. "Potassium bromate also has the potential to disrupt the genetic material within cells. Upon entering the body, potassium bromate can be transformed into molecules called oxides and radicals. These highly reactive molecules can damage DNA and may play a role in the development of cancer."

All of which flies in the face of the American food industry, which has long argued that the chemical is not as harmful as science says. And the US remains one of the few countries where the flour is still legal.

The researchers ended their article with on a cautionary note for American consumers.

"EWG recommends a precautionary approach to consumers: You should avoid food products that contain this chemical," said co-author Nneka Leiba. "Manufacturers should look to safer alternative methods and ingredients to produce their baked goods."