The Environmental Working Group (EWG) released a report providing evidence that confirmed the presence of azodicarbonamide (ADA) in hundreds of brand name foods. In fact, even brands that purport to be "healthy" and "natural" still frequently contain this hazardous chemical. Betty Crocker, Jimmy Dean, Little Debbie, Pillsbury, Sara Lee and Tyson are all brands you might expect would use azodicarbonamide in their foodstuffs; they aren't exactly paragons of nutrition. But the fact that brands such as Earthgrains, Fresh Gourmet, Healthy Life and Nature's Own also feature ADA may be a bit more of a surprise.
The FDA states on their website, "Azodicarbonamide (ADA) is a chemical substance approved for use as a whitening agent in cereal flour and as a dough conditioner in bread baking." What they do not say is that ADA is also used in the plastics industry as a foaming agent. ADA is added to polymer plastic gel to generate tiny bubbles, resulting in a relatively lightweight material that is malleable and spongy – but also quite strong.
The concentration allowed by the FDA – 45 parts per million – has not been shown to be toxic to humans. However, EWG reports:
According to the World Health Organization, workers handling large volumes have reported respiratory symptoms and skin sensitization, but ADA has not undergone extensive testing of its potential to harm human health.
Perhaps one of the biggest gripes about the use of ADA in food is that it is really a needless chemical; bread can be made just fine without it. Sadly, it is probably the least of our worries, since there are many more toxic things added to our food. That is why abstaining from prepackaged, processed foods, and maintaining a diet based on fresh, organic food is so important.