GRN Reports:

Concerns about food additives have prompted Panera Bread to announce it will be removing these ingredients from its food by 2016.

TPanera imagehe St. Louis-based restaurant chain, which has already purged its menu of trans-fats and has been serving chicken raised without antibiotics for more than a decade (a policy later extended to include roasted turkey, ham and sausage) has 1,800 outlets across the U.S., including five in Austin and several more in Texas.

Going forward, Panera is pledging to serve only menu items with “clean” ingredients, meaning it will be ditching any MSG, artificial food dyes, flavorings and preservatives, and faux sweeteners in its supply chain.

“Panera was founded on the belief that quick food could be quality food,” said Ron Shaich, founder, chairman and CEO. “We started by baking bread from fresh dough each day in our cafes. That commitment led to others – like our early decision to remove artificial trans-fats, post calories on menu boards and invest in serving chicken raised without antibiotics. As we continue to make conscious choices about the food we source and serve, we realized it’s also important to share what we’ve accomplished and where we’re going.”

In addition to its clean ingredients guideline, the chain is promising transparency because it believes people have a right to know how and where their food has been sourced, the company announced June 3. It’s all part of a new food policy that Panera hopes will make it an industry leader.

“We believe simpler is better,” explained Scott Davis, Chief Concept Officer. “Panera is on a mission to help fix a broken food system. We have a long journey ahead, but we’re working closely with the nutrition community, industry experts, farmers, suppliers and others to make a difference. We’re pleased to publicly share our framework and intend to share progress over time.”

Panera Bread, which operates in 45 states and in Ontario, Canada under the Panera Bread®, Saint Louis Bread Co.® or Paradise Bakery & Cafe®, is making its pledge against a backdrop of increasing public discontent with artificial ingredients. Fake sugars have been linked to everything from cancer to weight gain. Artificial dyes have been associated with hyperactivity and investigated, but not confirmed, as an aggravating factor in autistic behavior.

Another recent scofflaw involved the artificial ingredient commonly used in breads, the controversial and unpronounceable Azodicarbonamide. Panera Bread does not use this controversial ingredient, but many restaurants do.

Azodicarbonamide is a bleaching agent that helps fluff up breads. It’s also used to add air to foam items such as yoga mats and shoe soles. The Food and Drug Administration has approved Azodicarbonamide for foods, and it is widely used in baked goods. When all this hit the light of day in early 2014, it turned out that Subway, McDonald’s, Chik-a-fila, Wendy’s, Jack-in-the-Box and countless more restaurants and groceries were serving up bread made with this food additive. Even Dunkin Donuts’ croissants and danishes contained AZD. Subway has since said it’s removed AZD from its bread. (But again, Panera does not and has not used AZD.)

The negative health effects of AZD are unclear, though it’s banned in Europe because the World Health Organization found that it could induce asthma and other respiratory problems in people exposed to high amounts during its production. That left unclear whether it was dangerous to consume the small amounts used in bread, but it was sufficient indication for some flour producers, which quit using it.

The Daily Mail reported that Azodicarbonamide was banned in Europe because of the asthma connection and because studies in animals found it caused skin conditions, though “testing in humans remained inconclusive.”