A new study shows common plastic packaging steeps food in industrial chemicals.
As if it weren’t already enough of a headache to find non-toxic, safe and healthy food to eat, a recent study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspective reveals that the packaging used for certain food products can impact hormones. Researchers for the study found that people who eat more fast food have significantly increased rates of phthalates—industrial chemicals used to make plastics—in their systems. The study authors attribute the trend to chemicals seeping from plastic packaging into foods.
The study asked 8,877 participants in the National Health and Nutrition Examinations Surveys between 2003 and 2010 to report all the food they had eaten within last 24 hours. Participants also donated a urine sample to the study. Researchers tested each urine sample for the industrial chemicals di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), diisononyl phthalate (DiNP) and bisphenol A (BPA)—all of which are suspected to impact health and hormones.
The results showed people for whom fast food made up 35% or more of their daily food consumption had higher rates of DEHP (24%) and DiNP (40%), compared to those who did not eat fast food. There was no significant correlation between BPA and fast food.
Fast foods often comes in packaging that contains phthalates, as do a number of processed grocery store items, according to the American Chemistry Council.
While the study did not show a correlation between BPA in the blood and fast-food consumption, researchers concluded in 2008 that plastics containing BPA can and do seep into foods, and then into the bloodstream. Since then, BPA has been banned by many food packaging manufacturers, which could potentially explain its absence in the recent study.
A Time article on April 13 discussed the recent study results in detail, and spoke with study author Ami Zota, an assistant professor of environmental and occupational health at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health. Zota told Time,“The same range of concentrations measured in this [group] overlaps with the range of concentrations that have been measured in some of epidemiological studies that find adverse health effects.”
Thanks to efforts to educate the public that date back to the ’50s, most people now know chemicals are entering our food supply in a number of ways. Studies continue to link chemicals with common cancers, like breast cancers, as well as other health issues like reproductive abnormalities in men and women. Despite mass efforts to rein in the big companies like Monsanto that are responsible for the creation of many chemical poisons, toxins continue to make their way into our food supply all the time via packaging, pesticides sprayed on crops, and antibiotics and hormones given to poultry, pigs and cattle in industrial factory farm operations.
Many people are generally aware that fast food is unhealthy (toxic chemicals aside, fast food contributes to high rates of diabetes, heart disease and obesity), and it’s likely the average person has heard that processed foods contain cancer-causing carcinogens. Still, Americans continue to consume these foods at perversely high rates. According to the United States Healthful Food Council, the average American adult buys a meal or snack from a restaurant 5.8 times a week and more than 30 percent of children eat fast food on any given day. Americans spend an average of $100 billion on fast food each year.
Ami Zota spoke to this piece of the puzzle in the Time interview, which points out that “about a third of all the people in the study had eaten fast food in the prior day.”
“That’s a lot,” Zota said. “That alone tells you the public health impact of this type of food preparation.”
Zota also told Time that in addition to chemicals leaching into food through packaging, “plastic gloves and conveyer belts could also be sources.”
The study concludes that, “Fast food may be a source of exposure to DEHP and DiNP. These results, if confirmed, could inform individual and regulatory exposure reduction strategies.”