Phthalates found in the products of world famous fast food restaurants

All samples of products of popular fast food restaurants tested by American scientists contained one or more types of phthalates or other plasticizers.

Phthalates have been identified in the dishes of restaurants belonging to popular fast food chains – McDonald’s and Burger King, Pizza Hut and Domino’s, as well as Tex-Mex Taco Bell and Chipotle. The results of the work were published in the Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology.

Phthalates are a class of multifunctional, high-volume chemicals commonly used as plasticizers in food packaging. Their impact on humans is extremely great, since in the modern world they surround us literally everywhere. As shown by previous studies, traces of phthalates were found in the body of more than 98% of the inhabitants of the United States. This cannot but cause concern, because phthalates are recognized disruptors of the endocrine system, harm the male reproductive system, provoke premature puberty in women, negatively affect the development of the fetus in pregnant women, as well as the learning and behavior of children.

Most often, these substances enter the body with food. However, we cannot yet fully understand the degree of food contamination with phthalates and non-phthalate plasticizers. Meanwhile, it is known that food from fast food chains – the most common type of restaurants in the United States – are intensively processed, packaged and processed. Therefore, people who often eat in such establishments are especially vulnerable: for example, previous epidemiological studies have found a link between frequent fast food consumption and increased exposure to orthophthalates. But until now, scientists have not measured the concentration of these plasticizers in fast food dishes.

American scientists tested food in dozens of points of popular fast food chains located in the city of San Antonio in southern Texas. The hamburgers, chicken nuggets, French fries, pizza and burritos purchased there in their original packaging and without additional fillings were delivered to the laboratory and frozen to minus 20 degrees. Then each product was homogenized, mixed with a suspension, and the liquid was checked for 11 chemicals by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry.

More than 80 percent of the samples tested contained di-n-butyl phthalate (DnBP), which was associated with an increased risk of asthma, and 70 percent found di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP), which correlates with reproductive problems. Non-phthalate plasticizers called dioctyl terephthalate (DEHT), di-2-ethylhexyl adipate (DEHA), and DINCH were found in 86%, 41%, and 14% of the foodstuffs studied, respectively (the health and environmental impact of such alternative non-phthalate plasticizers has not been sufficiently studied). Butylbenzyl phthalate (BBzP), di-n-octyl phthalate (DNOP) and diethyl phthalate (DEP) were present in 20%, 6% and 39% of meals, respectively. Dimethyl phthalate (DMP) was the only chemical that was absent from all samples.

The highest phthalate concentrations were found in meat products, and the lowest in cheese pizza and fries. Researchers looked at the gloves worn by food service workers and tested positive for these chemicals, too. The phthalate levels were below the thresholds set by the US Environmental Protection Agency, scientists said. Therefore, according to the current principles, the concentrations identified by the researchers would not cause alarm among the authorities.

Nevertheless, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is interested in a new study. “Although we have high safety standards, as new scientific information becomes available, we are revising our estimates,” said a spokesman for the department. “If new data raises safety concerns, the FDA may revoke approval for food additives.” None of the six chain restaurants responded to requests for comment.

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