How safe are flour additives?

by Emily Wilson
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How safe are flour additives?

Dear editor,

We are one of the largest manufacturers of wheat products in south India, procuring wheat from various parts of India and blending it to get the desired quality of finished products. While many flour mills in India mix chemicals like potassium bromate, benzoyl peroxide, etc., to improve the quality of finished products, we do not use additives or chemicals.

In India, mixing of chemicals and additives in flour products is regulated by the rules and regulations under the Food and Prevention of Adulteration Act, 1954. We would like to know whether commonly used chemicals and additives such as benzoyl peroxide and potassium bromate are harmful for human consumption and what general effects are caused by such chemicals?

M. Manickam

M.D. King Flour Unit (P) Ltd.,

Trichy Tamilnadu, India

Editor's reply: We asked Ian Trood of American Ingredients Company, Kansas City, Missouri, Inc., to reply to Mr. Manickam's letter. Mr. Trood writes:

"Benzoyl peroxide and potassium bromate are widely used by flour millers around the world. These chemicals are currently approved and used throughout the world to improve the functional properties of wheat flour. They have been thoroughly and repeatedly tested and found to be completely safe when used properly.

Benzoyl peroxide converts to benzoic acid and oxygen and as such presents no risk to health. In America, it has been studied widely and has been given GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) status. This designation indicates there is little or no concern about its use. In recent years, the use of benzoyl peroxide has been expanded in countries such as Canada to allow for it to be used in additional food applications. In Europe, benzoyl peroxide is no longer permitted as a flour bleach due largely to political and social preferences.

There have been some concerns about the residual from potassium bromate in certain types of baked products. This has led to its removal as a permitted additive in some countries but it is still allowed and used in the United States. Recent studies have shown that as long as the bake time and temperature is adequate, all potassium bromate converts to potassium bromide, a safe compound.

Analytical testing can determine the presence of potassium bromate in baked goods as low as 1 part per billion. This helps millers who choose to use potassium bromate ensure that their products are safe for consumption. A wide range of alternatives to potassium bromate use also is available.

Some of the chemicals allowed in flour are actually very beneficial, such as vitamins and minerals, and their addition should be encouraged. It is unfortunate that many flour mills in India are not adding anything to flour, including the vitamins and iron permitted under the current food standards. There are many people in India who are deficient in these micronutrients and would benefit greatly by their addition."