In a worrisome development, potentially dangerous chemicals known as plasticizers have been discovered in a variety of food products. These chemicals, designed to enhance the flexibility and durability of plastics, have been linked to several health issues, including disruption of the endocrine system, tumor growth, and abnormal reproductive function.
Take a stroll through your local grocery store, and you could likely find products tainted with plasticizers. Recent reports indicate that popular items like Del Monte sliced peaches, Chicken of the Sea pink salmon, and Fairlife Core Power chocolate milkshakes, among others, contain alarming levels of this potentially harmful chemical. The issue extends to fast food chains as well, with Wendy’s crispy chicken nuggets, a Chipotle chicken burrito, and a Burger King Whopper with cheese all testing positive for high levels of plasticizers.
Interestingly, organic food products were found to be just as likely to contain high levels of phthalates, the most commonly found plasticizers in food, as non-organic options.
Plasticizers, such as high molecular weight phthalates DEHP and DiNP, make their way into our food through food packaging and contact materials usually made from Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC). Other commonly used replacement plasticizers include DEHA, DINCH, and DEHT.
The health risks associated with these chemicals are severe and varied. Beyond the aforementioned reproductive complications and tumor growth, neurological harm, immune issues, and other effects have also been linked to plasticizer exposure. Some research suggests connections between exposure to plasticizers and an increased risk for obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
Despite these glaring health risks, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) currently permits the use of nine phthalates in food contact applications, with eight for use as plasticizers and one for use as a monomer.
The good news is that there is ongoing research into the safety of these chemicals, and manufacturers are beginning to use non-phthalate replacement plasticizers in their products. However, with such a pervasive problem, it’s clear that a more extensive solution and stronger regulation are required to ensure food safety and public health.