Scientists Find Harmful Chemical Plastics in Fast-Food Items

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Researchers tested a wide variety of fast-food items and found phthalates and other harmful chemical plastics in all.

Fast-food consumption has significantly increased over the past few years. While it is well-known that fast-food products contain high levels of carbs and sugars, their chemical content remains unknown. The use of plastic packaging increases the risk of harmful chemicals entering food and eventually our bodies. Therefore, a team of researchers explored the presence of harmful chemical plastics, phthalates in fast-food items from various food chains.

Phthalates help make plastics softer; thus, are commonly present in food packaging. However, due to its harmful effects on human health, regulators have replaced them with other plasticizers (e.g., dioctyl terephthalate (DEHT). Human exposure to phthalates can cause neurotoxicity, endocrine disorders, and in children result in cognitive and behavioral problems.

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.

Lariah Edwards, study author

Less Chemical in Cheese Pizza

The team of researchers collected 64 food items from McDonald’s, Domino’s, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, Burger King, and Chipotle. The food samples included burgers, chicken nuggets, cheese pizza, chicken burritos, and fries. Moreover, researchers also collected plastic gloves used by food prepares at the various locations. The findings of the study are available in the Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology.

Results showed that more than 80% of the samples contained a phthalate called DnBP. Whereas 70% contained another phthalate, DEHP. The highest concentration of the chemical plastics was present in meat-based products; cheese pizza had the lowest levels. While talking to USA Today, study author Lariah Edwards called it a concerning finding.

Study authors also reported the replacement chemicals in many of the samples. However, their impact on human health is not known.

The researchers also found phthalates in the gloves. Thus, suggesting that the chemical plastics likely entered the fast-food items through the plastic gloves or the plastic packaging. Since a majority of fast-food restaurants are present in neighborhoods of colour, study authors believe that the results can have a great implication on the health of Black Americans.


Lariah Edwards et al, Phthalate and novel plasticizer concentrations in food items from U.S. fast-food chains: a preliminary analysis, Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology (2021). DOI: 10.1038/s41370-021-00392-8


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