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No longer will customers feel the urge to say "Namaste" upon whiffing the odor of a freshly baked Subway sandwich loaf. The chain told The Associated Press that it will completely phase out the azodicarbonamide from its bread by next week, an ingredient that drew a storm of criticism after a food activist launched a petition pointing out that the chemical is also used in yoga mats.
While banned in Europe for its link to respiratory illnesses when it is manufactured or handled in raw form, and in other countries because when broken down it forms a chemical considered to be carcinogenic in mice, the ingredient is approved by the FDA and used by other chains, including McDonald's, Wendy's, Dunkin' Donuts and the breads of some supermarket chains.
In industrial settings it's also used in shoe soles and yoga mats as a way to turn liquid chemicals into spongy foam.
The chain said it had already started removing the chemical from its supply chain in 2013, a year prior to the online petition's launch in February, which garnered over 96,000 signatures and national media coverage.
Subway said the information in the AP report was accurate. In a press release earlier this year it said, "Azodicarbonamide is a safe ingredient used in baked goods that helps condition dough to make it more stable so the desired texture and volume can be achieved. It is an extremely common and acceptable ingredient that is found in the breads of most chains."
The explanation doesn't work for Vani Hari, the food activist who started the petition.
"A small amount of azodicarbonamide might not do anything. But what if you eat three sandwiches a day, or five a week or ten a month?" she said. "The FDA is allowing thousands of chemicals in our food that haven't been tested in three decades and we don't know their cumulative effect."
Despite her campaign's success, she said she has no plans to celebrate with an azodicarbonamide-free Subway sandwich, citing her concerns over other processed chemicals the loaves still contain.
"It takes five ingredients to make bread. When they start doing that, that's when I'll start eating there again," said Hari.