Azodicarbonamide is an ingredient that’s truly as bad as it sounds. It’s a chemical that can be found in a variety of bread products here in the U.S. but has been banned in many other countries. In fact, in Singapore there are hefty fines associated with its use (up to 15 years in prison and $450,000). In the U.K., azodicarbonamide has been identified as a “respiratory sensitizer,” or a possible cause of asthma. It’s also been linked with cancer in animal studies. Oh, and we shouldn’t forget that its main use is in the production of foamed plastics. How about a little yoga mat in your sandwich roll?

It’s used as a dough conditioner and stabilizer, helping with the texture and appearance of bread products. The use of azodicarbonamide seems to be most popular commercially and shows up in the database in a whole host of fast food sandwich breads and rolls.

But it’s not long for bread at Subway: The company says it’s coming out.

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

According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest the ingredient has been poorly tested.  One of the breakdown products, derived from the original substance, is called urethane, a recognized carcinogen, the organization says. Using azodicarbonamide at maximum allowable levels results in higher levels of urethane in bread “that pose a small risk to humans,” CSPI said.

Another breakdown product is semicarbazide, which poses “a negligible risk to humans” but was found to cause cancers of the lung and blood vessels in mice, CSPI said.

CSPI advocates for reducing the amount of the chemical that is allowed to be used.

“We urge the Food and Drug Administration to consider whether the Delaney amendment, which bars the use of food additives that cause cancer in humans or animals, requires the agency to bar its use,” CSPI said.

The FDA has said that the additive cannot exceed 0.0045% by weight of the flour when used in as a “dough conditioner.”

Food blogger Vani Hari, of the popular food blog Food Babe, originally drew public attention to this issue, CSPI said. She has written about Subway ingredients several times since 2012, and has launched a petition urging Subway to stop using azodicarbonamide. More than 67,000 people have signed.

Grocery store breads and restaurant breads also contain this chemical. Other major fast food chains have products with the ingredient too, including McDonald’s, Starbucks and Arby’s.
McDonald’s has also responded to concerns about the chemical with regard to its McRib sandwich buns, but continues to use the chemical in that product.

It’s refreshing to see that Subway has responded appropriately to consumer voices, especially since they are the chain most commonly viewed as a healthier option. The publicity surrounding their move has spurred other voices as well. Just this last Sunday, Senator Charles Schumer of New York held a press conference outside of a Manhattan McDonald’s calling on the FDA to ban the ingredient completely.

While many are arguing for the use of “safe levels” of the chemical in our foods, we are thrilled to observe, once again, how consumer voices can shift the manufacturing habits of established companies. It’s not only our right to make our voices heard, it’s our responsibility. Our voices can get the results we’re seeking. Thanks for listening, Subway. We’re hopeful that others will follow suit.