Subway removing controversial dough conditioner, baking expert deems ingredient 'unnecessary'

By Maggie Hennessy

- Last updated on GMT

“We are already in the process of removing azodicarbonamide as part of our bread improvement efforts despite the fact that it is USDA and FDA approved ingredient,” Subway told FoodNavigator-USA. Photo by Subway.
“We are already in the process of removing azodicarbonamide as part of our bread improvement efforts despite the fact that it is USDA and FDA approved ingredient,” Subway told FoodNavigator-USA. Photo by Subway.

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There are plenty of viable alternatives to azodicarbonamide from ginger to citric acid, one baking expert told FoodNavigator-USA as Subway said it would phase out the controversial dough conditioner after a petition calling on its removal received more than 65,000 signatures in 24 hours.

Klaus Tenbergen, certified master baker, Culinology program director and associate professor in the Department of Food Science and Nutrition at California State University, Fresno, was speaking to us after Vani Hari (Food Babe) launched a petition​ linking the dough conditioner to possible health concerns such as asthma, and the Center for Science in the Public Interest released a statement soon after asking the Food and Drug Administration to ban or dramatically reduce allowed use of the dough conditioner. 

“Advances in the understanding of the science behind bread-making processes have led to increasingly sophisticated additives,” ​Tenbergen said. “Properly used, dough conditioners help compensate for ingredient and process variability. But there is really no need to use this synthetic dough conditioner. Lecithin, gluten, ascorbic/citric acid and ginger work just as well.”

Azodicarbonamide is manufactured through a reaction of dihydrazine sulfate and urea under high temperature and pressure. Its industrial form (which is chemically identical to the food-grade form) is used for production of foam plastics like shoe soles and exercise mats. The FDA deems azodicarbonamide safe for use in cereal products and breads as a bleaching agent and dough conditioner (up to 45 parts per million), provided it is appropriately labeled. However, it has been banned in multiple other countries, as reports from the World Heath Organization linked the chemical to asthma and otherrespiratory issues, concluding that “exposure levels should be reduced as much as possible.”

CSPI echoed this statement in its letter to the FDA, noting "this is hardly a chemical that we need in our food supply."

Vani Hari Subway Picture
Food Babe Vani Hari in front of a Subway restaurant

Food Babe claims victory as Subway says it's in the process of phasing out azodicarbonamide​ 

CSPI’s statement came a day after activist food blogger Vani Hari (FoodBabe) launched a asking all North American Subway sandwich chains to remove azodicarbonamide from their breads (it isn't used in Subway chains in Europe or the UK), citing the WHO reports and calling the chemical into question for its use in producing industrial foam plastic, like "yoga mats and shoe soles."

"Azodicarbonamide is not supposed to be food or even eaten for that matter. And it’s definitely not 'fresh,'"​ Hari wrote. "We deserve the same safer ingredients Subway serves in other countries." 

The petition got more than 65,000 signatures in 24 hours, prompting the sandwich chain to announce it was removing the ingredient from its bread formulas. In an email on Feb. 5, Subway told us it had already begun phasing out the ingredient. 

“We are already in the process of removing azodicarbonamide as part of our bread improvement efforts despite the fact that it is USDA and FDA approved ingredient,”​ a Subway spokesperson said. “The complete conversion to have this product out of the bread will be done soon.” 

But Hari claimed victory for the move, issuing a statement this morning, calling it her fourth successful campaign in two years. (She has launched similar campaigns demanding removal of controversial ingredients by Kraft, Chipotle and Chick-fil-A.) 

“This fast response from Subway indicates the untapped power of the consumer to change the food industry and I am so proud of our victory,” ​Hari said, adding she planned to keep the pressure on Subway, as it hasn't provided an official timeline for removing azodicarbonamide. “Make no mistake Subway is still currently using this ingredient and no one should eat there until it is actually gone And I (and everyone who signed the petition) will be holding them accountable for this change,” ​she added.

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Retired Biochemist

Posted by Peter Wells,

Mr. FoodSci;(
Azodicarbonamide is without question a toxic substance that should not be put into the human food supply. It is used to increase the volume of dough and for God knows what else . AZD is one example of many, many more toxic chemicals put into our food supply with the full blessings of the USDA, and FDA to help preserve the profits of especially large corporations that have lobbied for favorable legislation. This alone is the toxic effect of rampant corruption between the U.S. Government and Big Business. Question: If these corporations are capable of delivering essentially toxic free food products of the same brand to foreign nations, why are they allowed to theses toxins into the food supply here?
Got an answer for that Mr. FoodSci?!!!

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Why would a banker like food babe be given credibility as expert in food additives ?

Posted by Roy Basan,

I don't really understand how an ignorant person as food babe about technical matters would be credit due to his activism.. The recent plan of Subway to gradually phase out ADA is just stoking her gargantuan ego... Enough is enough if she can't submit a valid technical discussion about her arguments that the minuscule dose of ADA used is really that poisonous compared to many other carcinogens mutagens present in foods

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More questions

Posted by FoodSci,

@marco Since I'm sure you're posting from a position of expertise as a toxicologist or similar profession, could you tell me if, in your considered opinion, azodicarbonamide is more toxic to humans than any naturally occuring mutagens in ginger or the acrylamide formed by baking bread, given the average daily intake?

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