Many Foods Are Full of Plastic Chemicals, Report Finds

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Upset woman eating food out of a bowl with chopsticks. /

The next time you eat a meal, you will probably get a side helping of chemicals along with it.

Plasticizers make plastic more flexible and help it last longer. But these chemicals — the most common of which are phthalates — leach from plastic containers and other sources into foods and eventually end up inside most people, according to recent research from Consumer Reports.

The publication tested 85 foods and found that the presence of phthalates and other chemicals such as bisphenols (BPA) was widespread, even in foods not sold in plastic packaging. Phthalates, for example, can also get in during food processing from plastic in tubing, conveyor belts and gloves.

CR says foods with high levels of phthalates include:

  • Del Monte sliced peaches (canned)
  • Chicken of the Sea pink salmon (canned)
  • Fairlife Core Power high-protein chocolate milkshakes (plastic container)
  • Yoplait Original French vanilla low-fat yogurt (plastic container)
  • Several fast-food items, including Wendy’s crispy chicken nuggets, a Chipotle chicken burrito and a Burger King Whopper with cheese

And don’t think purchasing organic products will help you. CR says the highest phthalate levels turned up in a can of Annie’s Organic cheesy ravioli.

According to CR:

“The findings on phthalates are particularly concerning: We found them in almost every food we tested, often at high levels. The levels did not depend on packaging type, and no one particular type of food — say, dairy products or prepared meals — was more likely than another to have them.”

Research shows that even at low levels, such chemicals can cause a range of health problems. According to the Endocrine Society, these dangers include:

  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Reproductive disorders
  • Neurological impairment in fetuses and children
  • Death

Harvard Medical School says plastic that leaches into food might also lead to metabolic disorders, including obesity.

To make matters worse, avoiding these chemicals is nearly impossible. Many of them enter food “long before it is packaged,” Consumer Reports says.

In fact, one study estimated that Americans consume an average of 39,000 to 52,000 particles of microplastics every year.

However, there are some things you can do to reduce your exposure to such chemicals. They include:

  • Use glass and steel food and beverage containers. Avoiding the use of plastic containers should help reduce your exposure to these chemicals. If the lid of a glass or steel container is made of plastic, don’t allow food to touch the top of the container.
  • Never heat foods in plastic containers. Harvard Medical School warns against using a microwave to heat food in plastic containers. Doing so might cause leaching to occur faster and to a greater degree.
  • Avoid fast food. The Consumer Reports tests found that fast food contained some of the highest levels of phthalates and phthalate substitutes. CR says this might be due to the fact that fast-food workers prepare such foods with vinyl gloves, which contain high levels of the chemicals.

In general, it also pays to avoid plastic cutting boards, plastic bottles and plastic kitchen tools, CR says. In addition, eating fresh, minimally processed foods is likely to reduce your exposure to microplastics.

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