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Plastic in your fast food? Study says good chance


A new study out this week reports that far too often, small amounts of industrial chemicals called phthalates (pronounced THA-lates), which are used to make plastics soft, have been found in samples of food from popular outlets including McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and Chipotle.

George Washington University researcher Lariah Edwards, professor Ami Zota and their colleagues purchased 64 fast-food items from national burger chains McDonald’s and Burger King; pizza chains Pizza Hut and Domino’s; and Tex-Mex chains Taco Bell and Chipotle, all around San Antonio, Tex.

The study found harmful chemicals in a majority of samples collected. Phthalates are linked to health problems, including disruption to the endocrine system, and fertility and reproductive problems, as well as increased risk for learning, attention and behavioral disorders in children.

Currently, the Food and Drug Administration, which regulates the safety of food, has no legal thresholds limiting phthalate concentrations in food. The levels of phthalates found in the fast food that researchers tested were below the Environmental Protection Agency’s health protective thresholds, Edwards said. Under current guidelines, the levels of phthalates researchers found would not have raised alarms at federal agencies.

The FDA said in a statement that it will review the George Washington study and consider it as part of the body of scientific evidence.

“Although the FDA has high safety standards, as new scientific information becomes available, we reevaluate our safety assessments,” said an FDA spokesperson. “Where new information raises safety questions, the FDA may revoke food additive approvals, if the FDA is no longer able to conclude that there is a reasonable certainty of no harm from the authorized use.”

Although some phthalates have been banned from toys and other products, they are frequently used to make such things as rubber gloves, industrial tubing or food conveyor belts pliable, and can migrate from those things into the foods we ingest.

All of the foods the GWU researchers tested contained one or more phthalates or other plasticizer chemicals, according to the study, which received funding from foundations that promote liberal or left-leaning policies.

Food items sold by fast-food chains are heavily processed, packaged and handled, providing more opportunities to come into contact with these phthalates and plasticizers. The researchers collected food-handling gloves from many of the restaurants, which also tested positive for these chemicals.