What Do Subway Sandwiches & Your Sneakers Have In Common?



SubwaySlidePhoto: Roland Hoskins/REX USA.
If you've been living on a steady diet of $5 foot longs, it may be time to reassess. Subway announced this week that it's been using a chemical called azodicarbonamide in its bread. Like us, you're probably unfamiliar with this substance. But, we're willing to bet it's sitting in your house. You know, since it's the same chemical used to add elasticity to yoga mats and other distinctly non-food products. But, the sandwich chain has promised to discontinue its use of the chemical.

In a statement, Subway said: "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." It goes on to promise that the conversion will be completed soon. Though, we kind of feel like "soon" is a vague timeline, open for interpretation. Does that mean next week, or by 2015?

So, why was it using the chemical in the first place? Azodicarbonamide is used by commercial bakers to strengthen dough. And, though Subway is correct in that the substance is approved by the necessary government organizations, its presence in food is capped at less than 0.0045%. What's more, the Center for Science in Public Interest says azodicarbonamide is poorly tested.

What's concerning about the compound's presence in food is its chemical breakdown. Urethane and semicarbazide are both derivations of the substance, and they're both known carcinogens (the latter has proven to cause lung and blood-vessel cancer in mice). As such, the CSPI believes it shouldn't be in anything we consume, urging the FDA to reconsider its ruling on even a small amount.

The American Bakers Association told CNN, "Past FDA sampling results have indicated appropriate low-level use in products. As a dough conditioner, it has a volume/texture effect on the finished loaf. It is a functional ingredient that improves the quality of bread and any substitutes are likely not to work as well as ADA (azodicarbonamide)." We can't help but wonder if the bread's distinct smell is a result of the chemical additive. Will removing azodicarbonamide also remove the unmistakable scent? Will we be able to walk within a two-block radius of a Subway sans the overwhelming bread waft?

In all seriousness, it's worth noting that the chemical is banned in EU breads. Also, it's used in sneakers. So, there's that. (CNN)