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Many fast-food items contain plastics linked to serious health problems, new study finds



A peer-reviewed study was published this week indicating that chemicals known as phthalates have been detected in food from popular chain restaurants like McDonald’s, Chipotle and others. Phthalates have been linked to asthma, fertility issues, and cognitive development problems in children.

Researchers from George Washington University, the Southwest Research Institute (San Antonio, Texas), Boston University, and Harvard University authored the peer reviewed analysis that was published in the Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology. The researchers collected 64 food samples of hamburgers, fries, chicken nuggets, chicken burritos, and cheese pizza from chain fast-food restaurants in San Antonio, Texas including McDonald’s, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Domino’s, Taco Bell, and Chipotle.

After analyzing the samples, they found that 70 percent of the foods contained the phthalate DEHP, and over 80 percent contained a phthalate called DnBP. Phthalates typically transfer from plastics, like gloves and tubing, used for food handling as phthalates are chemicals added to plastics in order to make them softer. As Laraiah Edwards, an author of the analysis, points out, those chemicals have been linked to reproductive issues as well as learning and attention problems in children among other things.

While the detected phthalate levels in the study are below the Environmental Protection Agency’s protective health thresholds, Edwards noted that diet is still the main way individuals are exposed to that class of chemicals. “So regardless of the concentrations and because we know that these chemicals are linked to some of these worrisome health outcomes, it’s important that we look at these concentrations in food and really understand.”

But Larry Lynch, a senior vice president at the National Restaurant Association, emphasized that the phthalate levels noted in the study are within guidelines set by the EPA as he accused the study of being a “took of special interest groups looking to incite fear and make headlines.”

He continued, “Our operators and owners work closely with their suppliers to ensure they have packaging and supplies that meet all FDA guidelines and best practices, while providing customers safe, high-quality experiences.”

The Food and Drug Administration stated that it will review the study and possibly reevaluate safety assessments. “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.” 

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