If you eat bread from a fast food restaurant, you should ask yourself the following questions: What is azodicarbonamide? Why is it in my bread? Why should I avoid it? They’re all good questions, so let’s answer them one at a time.

Q: What is azodicarbonamide?

It is a chemical whose primary use is “in the production of foamed plastics.” In the United States it is also used as a food additive and flour bleaching agent.

Q: Why is it in my bread?

According to Mark Rubi, the former baker and owner of The Lick Skillet Bakery in Boulder, Colorado, the answer is “I don’t know.” He says, “The necessary ingredients in bread are pretty basic. You need flour, water, yeast, and salt for sure. And then maybe add a little olive oil for dough consistency and a little sugar to get the yeast going. Anything else you add should just be for flavoring.” He goes on to add, “It’s strange, I look at the commercial breads available these days and the ingredient lists are scary. Take fast food, for example, the typical bun at a fast food burger chain has 20 or more chemicals in addition to the main ingredients! Is this really something I want to be eating?”

Q: Why should I avoid azodicarbonamide?

Well, for one, most of the world does not look upon the chemical additive very favorably. It is banned as a food additive and in food packaging in the United Kingdom. It is banned in most European countries as well as Australia. And its use in Singapore has some pretty severe penalties (up to 15 years in prison and $450,000 fine). That is not the case in the United States.

According to Food Lorists, “In the UK, the H.S.E has identified azodicarbonamide as a respiratory sensitiser (a possible cause of asthma) and determined that products should be labeled with “May cause sensitisation by inhalation.”

Q: Why is azodicarbonamide allowed to be used in the United States?

The FDA’s official database on food additives is called EAFUS, which stands for Everything Added to Food in the United States. EAFUS contains more than 3000 additives, including nearly 700 which have not been tested for toxicology. These untested additives are classified as EAF.

According to EAFUS, the classification for azodicarbonamide is NIL, which officially means, “Although listed as added to food, there is no current reported use of the substance, and, therefore, although toxicology information may be available in PAFA, it is not being updated.”

Among the big names in fast food using azodicarbonamide in their bread: McDonalds, Burger King, Subway, and Kentucky Fried Chicken. There are many more.

The Food Facts food ingredient database currently shows 414 food products that contain this ingredient. For more information, visit Food Facts.