Experts Refute False Claim that Food Additives in Flour Cause Cancer

by Ella

A Facebook post claimed that certain flour brands contain Clorox, suggesting this leads to cancer. The post listed five brands allegedly containing Clorox—a popular household cleaning product—and two others deemed safe. It linked to a blog post citing Nadzim Johan, president of the Malaysian Muslim Consumers Association (PPIM), as the source, though no date was provided for his statement.

Nadzim was featured in a 2017 Facebook video where he similarly claimed that Malaysians consume flour whitened with Clorox, which he asserted causes cancer. These claims have periodically resurfaced on social media in Malaysia since 2012.


However, experts clarify that the bleaching agents used in flour are different from those in cleaning products and present no cancer risk.


Fatimah Salim, a research fellow at Universiti Teknologi MARA in Malaysia, explained that Clorox contains sodium hypochlorite, a disinfectant. In contrast, flour is bleached using chlorine gas, benzoyl peroxide, and bromine. These agents whiten the naturally yellowish flour, improving its baking qualities.


“Both types of bleach involve chemical reactions that alter the color of substances, but they are used for different purposes and are not interchangeable,” Salim stated.


Mohd Redzwan Sabran from Universiti Putra Malaysia’s Department of Nutrition emphasized the importance of distinguishing between food-grade bleaching agents and those used in cleaning products. “It’s crucial to distinguish between bleaching agents sanctioned for food use and chemical solutions intended for cleaning purposes,” he told AFP on May 16, 2024.

Fatimah noted that while high levels of chlorine gas can be harmful, the levels of benzoyl peroxide used in flour are deemed safe by regulatory agencies such as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). “Studies have shown that the levels of benzene formed from benzoyl peroxide in bleached flour are generally very low and unlikely to pose a significant health risk,” she explained.

Redzwan added that there is no evidence to date that benzoyl peroxide causes cancer in humans, referencing the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

In 2017, Malaysia’s Ministry of Health analyzed flour samples from brands mentioned by PPIM and found they did not exceed legal limits for benzoyl peroxide content. On April 27, 2024, the ministry confirmed that the benzoyl peroxide content in these flour brands was “safe for use” and within specified limits.

Under Malaysia’s Food Regulations 1985, benzoyl peroxide is permitted as a food conditioner in flour up to 50 milligrams per kilogram. The Codex Alimentarius Commission standards, set by the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Health Organization, allow up to 60 milligrams per kilogram of wheat flour.

Despite these clarifications, the false claims continue to circulate on social media, misleading the public about the safety of common food additives in flour.



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