Panera Bread Company of St. Louis, MO, announced Tuesday that it will phase out by the end of 2016 artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners and preservatives from the food served in its 1,800 bakery cafes across the U.S. About the company’s “comprehensive food policy,” posted here, Ron Shaich, founder, chairman and CEO, said, “Panera was founded on the belief that quick food could be quality food. 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 menus boards and invest in serving chicken raised without antibiotics.” The stated food policy focuses on three main areas: 1. Clean Ingredients: Panera says it is committed to “sourcing and serving high-quality ingredients without artificial additives including added MSG, artificial trans fats, and ingredients we don’t believe need to be in your food.” 2. Transparent Menu: The company notes that it is “committed to transparency to empower guests to choose how they want to eat.” 3. Positive Impact: “We believe guests deserve to know not only what it is in their food, but where it comes from and how companies are impacting the food system,” Panera says. The company’s announcement attracted kudos from Erik Olson, senior strategic director for health and food for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Panera’s forward-looking policy on antibiotics has made it an industry leader,” he said. “The company has been purchasing chicken raised without antibiotics for more than a decade — and over the years expanded to roasted turkey, ham, and sausage. We support their newest commitment to remove artificial additives. We look forward to working with them to ensure all their ingredients are essential and safe.” “Panera’s intention to eliminate artificial food additives is an important step in the right direction,” said Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. The company has said that it will focus on beverages next and remove high-fructose corn syrup from many of those it sells. The following are reportedly among the artificial additives that will be phased out from the food items currently available at Panera outlets: • Deli smoked turkey: potassium lactate, sodium phosphate, sodium erythorbate, sodium nitrite and sodium diacetate. • Horseradish: calcium disodium EDTA. • Citrus Pepper Chicken: maltodextrin, potassium lactate. • Cilantro Jalapeño Hummus: ascorbic acid and tocopherol, tara gum, carrageenan, potassium sorbate and sodium benzoate. • Summer corn chowder: tapioca Dextrin, modified corn starch, autolyzed yeast extract, maltodextrin, coconut oil derived from triglycerides, artificial flavors. • Roast beef: caramel color. Other food chains such as Starbucks, Chipotle and Subway have also started cutting back on artificial food ingredients, and Chipotle has announced a goal of eliminating GMO ingredients in its tortillas. Starbucks committed in 2009 to removing artificial flavors, dyes, HFCS and artificial sweeteners from its food products and removing artificial preservatives “whenever possible.” There is some speculation that Panera’s new food policy may be linked to declining sales in recent years. While sales were up 2.6 percent at many of the company’s outlets last year, that number was down compared to sales increases of 6.5 percent in 2012 and 4.9 percent in 2011.