The Chemical That's Being Discretely Nixed From Fast Food Menus

Food companies and restaurants are often quick to point out changes to their ingredients and menus that appeal to increasingly health-conscious consumers.

But numerous fast food chains largely remained silent about their moves to phase out a controversial chemical used in a variety of bread products, Bloomberg notes.

The substance, azodicarbonamide (ADA), rose to prominence in 2014, when a prominent food blogger launched a petition drive calling on Subway to drop the chemical.

Vani Hari, who runs, alleged that the bread "bleaching agent" was also used to make yoga mats and shoes. Reports also linked it to asthma and, in high doses, to cancer.

The chemical is prohibited from use in food by European regulators, although it is approved as an additive by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

According to the FDA, when ADA is baked, it breaks down into several other chemicals including one that was shown to be carcinogenic in female rats. The agency noted, however, that during that study ADA was present at levels far exceeding those a human would normally consume in food.

Subway made the change shortly thereafter — although it said that the switch was in progress prior to the petition drive — and ran TV ads that referenced the issue.

A litany of rival restaurants followed suit by either curbing the use of azodicarbonamide or eliminating it entirely. Those chains, however, altered their bread recipes with little publicity. Bloomberg's list included McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, White Castle, Arby's, Jack in the Box, Chick-fil-A and Dunkin’ Donuts.

One company spokesman told Bloomberg that the company sought to respond to customer demand without "patting ourselves on the back."

But critics countered that the restaurants likely didn't want their customers to know about their use of azodicarbonamide in the first place — or to get curious about the rest of their ingredients.

“A brand is really a collection of associations in people's minds,” consultant and author Daryl Weber told Bloomberg. “You don't want one of those associations to be, ‘We used to have the yoga-mat chemical in our food.’”

More in Chemical Processing