In 1964 the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) as well as the World Health Organisation (WHO) jointly carried out an evaluation of the effects of potassium bromate in the treatment of flour. It was then found that that when used within acceptable limits it did not have adverse effects. In addition to being used for bread processing potassium bromate is also used to treat barley when making beer. In Japan it is used for improving the quality of fish paste in products.
Subsequent evaluations by joint committees of the FAO/WHO however said that potassium bromate must not be present in food and if it is present then it should be in negligible amounts. In any case it should be acceptable only when it is within the maximum tolerable daily intake of bromide. It has been observed through testing that potassium bromate converts to bromide when the bread is prepared from flour by bulk fermentation process. Bromide is harmless and does not cause any side-effects.
When bromate was used in quantity less than 50mg per kg of flour then it left no bromate residue but if used in higher levels than this then potassium bromate could be detected in the bread. The higher the level of bromate used the more the residual levels. Similarly when bromate is used to treat barley for beer processing it changes to bromide. However, fish paste treated with bromate shows residues in the products. Presently there is no estimation of what is considered safe levels of bromate except in the treatment of bread. Therefore in 1992, the FAO/WHO committee decided that using potassium bromate as a flour treatment agent was “not appropriate.”
Most of the analysis of potassium bromate as a possible carcinogen has been determined from animal studies. There is no adequate evidence to show that potassium bromate causes cancer hence it has been listed in the Group2B which means it possibly causes cancer. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that it could cause cancer but since no long term studies have been conducted on human beings there is no definite way to determine the quantity of bromate that will cause cancer. When it is used in flour at the limit of 15-30ppm it is used up during baking and leaves no trace in the finished product. FSSAI had therefore recommended a limit of 20ppm to be used in flour but now with the publication of CSE report the FSSAI has planned to ban any use of the additive for bakery products. In 2012 Codex Alimentarius formally withdrew specifications of potassium bromate as there was no way to know what amount could cause cancer.
Brominated flour is used in some restaurants, bakeries and has been found in many fast food rolls, buns, and pizza bases. A number of bread and baked product manufacturers use potassium bromate with flour because it improves elasticity, speeds up baking and gives bread a nice white colour. While these foods may be perfectly safe if bromate is within ‘limits’ but there is no way for consumers to know the residual amounts especially when used in burger buns or pizza bases. Therefore the FSSAI has decided to ban the use of potassium bromate like a number of other countries. Some commercial brands have replaced potassium bromate with other dough-enhancing additives. The manufacturers have other alternatives to replace potassium bromate but they have to follow the guidelines on food additives as prescribed in Appendix A of the Food Safety & Standards (Food Products Standards & Food Additives) Regulations, 2011.