Many of the foods consumed are contaminated with harmful plastic chemicals that contribute to health complications like diabetes, cardiovascular disorders, and infertility, said a recent report by the nonprofit group Consumer Reports (CR).
CR tested 85 food items from 11 categories—beverages, canned beans, condiments, dairy, fast food, grains, infant food, meat and poultry, packaged fruits and vegetables, prepared meals, and seafood, according to the Jan. 4 report. Researchers examined the presence of plasticizers—a chemical used to boost the durability of plastics. The group analyzed two to three samples from each food item, looking for two types of common plasticizers—bisphenols and phthalates—as well as some of their substitutes.
They found that these chemicals remained “widespread” in our food products despite “growing evidence” of health risks. CR discovered that 79 percent of tested samples had bisphenols while 84 out of 85 items had phthalates.
Exposure to such plasticizers can cause severe health issues, like for example in children, bisphenol A (BPA) exposure can negatively affect the brain and prostate glands as well as their behavior. BPA has also been linked with type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and high blood pressure.
Phthalates have been associated with obesity, type 2 diabetes, lower sperm motility and concentration, early puberty in girls, and cancer.
Both bisphenols and phthalates have been shown to be endocrine disruptors, meaning they can interfere with the generation and regulation of hormones. Disruptions to hormone levels can lead to cardiovascular disease, infertility, diabetes, and neurodevelopmental disorders.
Exposure to these chemicals can come from the environment, food, and packaging, right from dust in the house to the printed receipt from a grocery store.
CR found that the levels of BPA and other bisphenols were “notably lower” compared to when the group last tested for BPA in 2009. This suggested that “we are at least moving in the right direction on bisphenols,” said James E. Rogers, who oversees product safety testing at the organization.
However, there wasn’t “any good news” on phthalates. Not only were they present in almost all foods, but their levels were also “much higher” compared to bisphenols.
Some of the top food items with the highest level of phthalate contamination as discovered by CR’s tests are as follows:
- Beverages: Brisk Iced Tea Lemon, Coca-Cola Original, Lipton Diet Green Tea Citrus, and Poland Spring 100 percent natural spring water.
- Canned Beans: Hormel Chili with Beans, Bush’s Chili Red Beans Mild Chili Sauce, and Great Value (Walmart) Baked Beans Original.
- Condiments: Mrs. Butterworth’s Syrup Original and Hunt’s Tomato Ketchup.
- Dairy: Fairlife Core Power High Protein Milk Shake Chocolate, SlimFast High Protein Meal Replacement Shake Creamy Chocolate, Yoplait Original Low Fat Yogurt, and Tuscan Dairy Farms Whole Milk.
- Fast Food: Wendy’s Crispy Chicken Nuggets, Moe’s Southwest Grill Chicken Burrito, Chipotle Chicken Burrito, Burger King Whopper With Cheese, Burger King Chicken Nuggets, and Wendy’s Dave’s Single With Cheese.
- Grains: General Mills Cheerios Original and Success 10 Minute Boil-in-Bag White Rice.
- Infant Food: Gerber Mealtime for Baby Harvest Turkey Dinner, Similac Advance Infant Milk-Based Powder Formula, Beech-Nut Fruities Pouch Pear, Banana & Raspberries, and Gerber Cereal for Baby Rice.
- Meat and Poultry: Perdue Ground Chicken Breast, Trader Joe’s Ground Pork 80% Lean 20% Fat, Premio Foods Sweet Italian Sausage, and Libby’s Corned Beef.
- Packaged Fruits and Vegetables: Del Monte Sliced Peaches in 100% Fruit Juice, Green Giant Cream Style Sweet Corn, and Del Monte Fresh Cut Italian Green Beans.
- Prepared Meals: Annie’s Organic Cheesy Ravioli, Chef Boyardee Beefaroni Pasta in Tomato and Meat Sauce, Banquet Chicken Pot Pie, Campbell’s Chunky Classic Chicken Noodle Soup, and Chef Boyardee Big Bowl Beefaroni Pasta in Meat Sauce.
- Seafood: Chicken of the Sea Pink Salmon in Water Skinless Boneless, King Oscar Wild Caught Sardines in Extra Virgin Olive Oil, and Snow’s Chopped Clams.
Some of these foods had far higher levels of phthalates compared to others.
For instance, Annie’s Organic Cheesy Ravioli had 53,579 nanograms of phthalates per serving, which is more than double what was found in Chicken of the Sea Pink Salmon in Water Skinless Boneless, Moe’s Southwest Grill Chicken Burrito, Burger King Whopper With Cheese, and Fairlife Core Power High Protein Milk Shake Chocolate.
Dangerous Chemicals, Autism
CR pointed out that regulators from the European Union and the United States have set a threshold for BPA and some of the phthalates. None of the 85 food items exceeded these limits. However, this doesn’t mean that the tested foods are safe for consumption.
“Many of these thresholds do not reflect the most current scientific knowledge, and may not protect against all the potential health effects,” said Tunde Akinleye, the CR scientist who oversaw the tests. “We don’t feel comfortable saying these levels are okay. … They’re not.”
For instance, some studies have associated high blood pressure, insulin resistance, and reproductive issues with phthalates even when the level of the plasticizer was below the thresholds set by European and American authorities, CR noted.
Because people can be exposed in a wide range of ways, it can be difficult to quantify a safe limit for the chemicals in any single food.
“The more we learn about these chemicals, including how widespread they are, the more it seems clear that they can harm us even at very low levels,” said Mr. Akinleye.
A study published in September found that BPA was directly linked to two key disorders during childhood—autism and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). In children with these conditions, the body’s ability to detoxify BPA was found to be reduced.
Bisphenol-S (BPS), a BPA substitute, was found to potentially increase the risk of cardiovascular disease according to a 2022 study. “Although BPA, BPS, and BPF share similar chemical properties, BPS and BPF are not safe alternatives for BPA,” it warned.
A study published at the National Library of Medicine in June 2022 found that phthalates in high concentrations in certain medications could raise the risk of childhood cancer.
Overall, childhood phthalate exposure was associated with a 20 percent higher risk of childhood cancer. The risk of developing lymphoma or blood cancer doubled while the risk of developing osteosarcoma, a bone cancer, rose by almost three times.