Disappointing New Study Says Fast Food Could Contain Industrial Plasticizers

With a side of large phthalates, please.
With a side of large phthalates, please. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Having to swallow a bunch of fake ingredients is basically the devil’s bargain for eating a Whopper or Gordita, but new evidence suggests a bonus chemical is possibly hitching a ride into your body alongside all of that wood pulp and red 40. A study published today in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives found that people actually had “elevated levels” of a class of industrial plasticizers known as phthalates in their urine 24 hours after eating fast food. According to Bloomberg, the paper is the first big look at whether fast food itself (versus the already-dubious packaging it comes in) carries these industrial chemicals used to make plastics more durable, and the answer is clearly yes. For years, consumer advocates have advised avoiding them, although that’s almost impossible since their use is so widespread in plastic products — in cosmetics, detergents, shower curtains, vinyl flooring, etc. Their discovery is even more disconcerting in foods that shouldn’t even contain them, these researchers argue.

Traces of phthalates have also turned up in tests of processed meats and dairy products, which isn’t hard to believe given the plastic tubing and packaging involved. This study adds fast food to that list of significant sources of phthalates, and explains they’re probably leaching in courtesy of a contamination triple threat: from the packaging, the machinery used during processing, or the gloves worn by workers.

The EPA has suggested this set of chemicals could pose health risks, and even classifies them as a “probable human carcinogen” (group B2). Researchers say they can’t prove fast food was the sole cause of elevated phthalate levels in the subjects, but add that “the association is strong.” The point, anyway, is more that this seems to cement fast food’s status as an edible sponge capable of absorbing every gross chemical.


Study Finds Industrial Chemical in Fast Food