Yoga-mat chemical quietly taken out of fast food

NEW YORK • In early 2014, a blog- ger known as Food Babe launched a petition pushing sandwich chain Subway to remove an obscure chemical also used in yoga mats from its bread.

Two days and more than 78,000 signatures later, Subway announced  it was taking out azodicarbonamide - the yoga-mat chemical, as it came to be known.

Since then, other major fast-food chains have followed suit, sans petition or  fanfare.  McDonald's, Chick- fil-A, Wendy's, White Castle, and Jack In The Box, which all used the chemical in their breads in 2014, have since gotten rid of it entirely.

"We removed these items because it was the right thing to do and it was a concern for our customers," a McDonald's spokesman said.

But the company did not mention the removal of the bread additive in a press release this week announ- cing several other ingredient overhauls, including the removal of high-fructose corn syrup from buns and artificial preservatives from McNuggets. 

Azodicarbonamide is a commonly used dough conditioner that is also found in yoga mats as well as in flip-flops and packing insulation because it makes them both lighter and stronger, according to the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy group.

The Food and Drug Administration has approved its use in food in limited amounts, but the European Union has banned its use in food. The World Health Organization has linked it to asthma and the industry watchdog group the Center For Science In The Public Interest has cited potential links to cancer, especially in high doses.

At Dunkin' Donuts, it is now out of the croissants and danishes, and while it is still in the Texas toast, a spokesman said that the chain is testing a new azodicarbonamide-free version. 

At Burger King, the additive  remains only in the French toast sticks. At Arby's, it is out of all the regular buns and breads and left in just the croissants, French toast sticks and sourdough breakfast bread.

"Good riddance," said Mr Michael Jacobson, executive director of Center For Science In The Public Interest , "but if you're thinking of health, it's only a tiny step forward."

He says sodium and calorie counts are bigger concerns.

McDonald's, Dunkin' Donuts, Wendy's and White Castle each separately said they reformulated their breads in response to consumer preferences. "I consider our brand a little more humble in terms of not patting ourselves on the back," said White Castle spokesman Jamie Richardson.

He said that the chain regularly tweaks its recipes and omitted azodicarbonamide when it launched its veggie sliders in late 2014. "We did it for the right reasons," he said, "being responsive to consumers."

Not everyone chalks up the lack of hoopla to humility. "They don't want to bring unnecessary attention to their ingredient decks," said Ms Vani Hari, the blogger whose petition prompted Subway to cut the chemical from its bread.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 10, 2016, with the headline 'Yoga-mat chemical quietly taken out of fast food'. Print Edition | Subscribe