What do bread and yoga mats have in a common? A little too much, it turns out. The spongy quality that characterizes both is often derived from azodicarbonamide (also known as ADA), a potentially risky chemical that has a home in almost 500 bread products. 

ADA made headlines earlier this year when the Subway sandwich franchise announced that they would no longer use the chemical in its bread items. Around the same time, information came to light suggesting that McDonalds, Burger King and Dunkin' Donuts also used ADA in its foodstuffs. 

They're not the only ones, it seems. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has now released a list of 130 food manufacturers that use the chemical, amounting to almost 500 different products. Some of the big names on the list include White Castle, Pillsbury, Wonder, Little Debbie, Sara Lee, and Country Hearth. 

ADA's uses are manifold, but its safety is questionable. From bleaching flour to strengthening dough to extending shelf life, it's also used to make plastic and rubber more elastic. 

The EWG also points out unreliable use of the term 'clean label,' noting that the term has no legal definition that prohibits its use. Food manufacturers, they argue, could likely be using the term on their packaging despite products containing ADA.

Limited research has been conducted on ADA, due in large part to the chemical not considered an immediate threat in its legally allowed concentration (2.05 grams per 100 pounds of flour). However, workers who come into contact with ADA on a regular basis have reported skin sensitivity and respiratory issues, including asthma in previously non-sensitive individuals. As such, the EWG is adamant that ADA use be ceased immediately. 

"One thing is clear: ADA is not food, as food has been defined for most of human history.  It is an industrial chemical added to bread for the convenience of industrial bakers. In centuries past, flour fresh from the mill had to age several months before it could be kneaded into dough and popped into the oven," the organization wrote.

"EWG recommends that consumers take steps to avoid the industrial additive ADA in their food. It is an unnecessary ingredient, its use has raised concerns about occupational exposure, and questions remain about its potential risk to consumers."

"EWG also calls on all manufacturers to immediately end its use in food."

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