Panera Bread Gets Rid Of An Exhaustive List Of Ingredients

Photographed by Anna Alexia Basile.
Big news, bread fans: Today, Panera Bread announced the company will be eliminating over 150 ingredients from its menu by 2016, reports The New York Times.

Panera already doesn't use any meat raised with antibiotics. And, with the introduction of this "No No List," it will expand that ban to do away with artificial flavors, colors, sweeteners, and preservatives (the lengthy list includes the likes of propylene glycol and titanium dioxide). Instead, the company says it wants to use only "clean ingredients" in an effort to simplify our food choices. And, Dan Kish, head chef at Panera, says the company has already removed about 85% of the list's artificial ingredients.

Panera's move comes after several other popular chains and brands have taken similar steps. For instance, Kraft announced it will be discontinuing the use of certain artificial dyes in its products just last month, despite any conclusive evidence of widespread harmful effects. Both Tyson and McDonald's have pledged to do away with the use of human antibiotics in their chicken (a trend we do appreciate). And, Chipotle announced its efforts to ban genetically modified ingredients last week, disappointing scientists everywhere.

To make the list, Panera turned to standards and research from the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Environmental Working Group, Johns Hopkins, and "various European governments." But, as Ron Shaich, Panera's chief executive, told The New York Times, the company isn't that interested in the scientific side of things: “I’m not a scientist, and I’m not wading into the debate over whether any of these things cause cancer or are otherwise bad for you," he says, "I just think this is where the consumer’s head is right now.”

Adopting consumers' chemical-fearing attitude could be problematic, however — especially when companies remove ingredients without conclusive evidence that they're harmful. Chipotle learned this lesson the hard way. And, even framed as purely a business decision, this could be seen as an implicit agreement with certain science-eschewing food bloggers who already take the removal of Panera's ingredients as a victory.

Still, Panera's list covers a wide range of ingredients, including ones the Environmental Working Group does see as potentially harmful — as well as ingredients the company simply doesn't need. As Kish told R29, the move is also about finding what works for the particular challenges Panera faces. For instance, the company decided it didn't need the whitening agent titanium dioxide in its mozzarella — while a slightly yellower cheese might ick out some customers in a supermarket, Kish says the cheese gets used up at Panera before it has time to darken noticeably. "There was no culinary benefit to [whitening]," he says.

In this way, Panera could serve as a model for thinking critically and simplifying food whenever possible. Of course, we're always happy to learn more about what we're eating — and to have easy access to healthier choices. But, we want to see these big decisions backed up with actual research.

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