Are There Phthalates in Fast Food? Chromatography Investigates
Nov 26 2021
Despite continued warnings about the health risks of too much fast food, the amount of it we consume continues to rise. In the US, it’s estimated that one in three people will eat fast food on any given day, with the majority of people eating fast food between 1-3 times a week.
However, it’s not just the calories, fat, sugar and salt that pose health risks. Recent research has revealed that some of the most popular fast-food products contain potentially dangerous chemicals known as phthalates.
What are phthalates?
Also known as plasticizers, phthalates are chemicals which are used to improve the durability of plastic. They’re found in countless products, from vinyl flooring and household cleaners to personal care products like shampoos and body washes.
The problem isn’t necessarily in what they’re used for though. It’s where they go next. After being used, in shampoo for example, phthalates can enter water sources. They’ve been found in tap water and even bottled water in low concentrations.
They can also be transferred to humans by touching. Babies and kids can be exposed to phthalates by touching plastic toys before putting their hands in their mouth, for instance.
That’s all particularly concerning as phthalate exposure has been linked to problems with the liver, kidneys, lungs and hormones – causing issues with the reproductive system.
Phthalates in fast food
It’s not just water that can see phthalates consumed by humans. Food is potentially at risk too. One example of this is the use of plastic containers to store and reheat food, which carries the risk of phthalates being transferred to food before being eaten.
However, researchers have recently found phthalates in food from popular fast-food outlets too. They used a gas chromatography-mass spectrometer to analyse 64 samples, covering everything from burgers and fries to burritos and pizza. Similar technology is discussed in the article ‘Novel Coiled Microextraction Sampling Device used for Field Sampling of Illicit Drugs of Abuse and Analysis by Micro Gas Chromatograph/Mass Spectrometer’.
Researchers checked for 11 chemicals in food from the likes of Burger King, Pizza Hut, McDonald’s and Domino’s. They found that 81% of foods contained DnBP phthalates, while 70% contained DEHP phthalates. Out of all the foods, the pizza contained the lowest levels.
They also identified DEHT phthalates in both foods and gloves. DEHT is a replacement plasticizer, which has been introduced to phase out other chemicals. This finding suggests that phthalate contamination may be occurring when food is handled by people wearing plastic gloves.
All in all, it’s yet another reason, as if any more were needed, to reduce the amount of fast food we consume.
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