Phthalates exposure is higher among already vulnerable communities, making this an issue of environmental justice.

Dining Out? Toxic Chemicals May Be Served


Grabbing a sandwich or cheeseburger from your favorite deli for lunch shouldn’t mean exposure to toxic chemicals. But a new study has found that Americans who ate food away from home were exposed to higher levels of health-harming toxic chemicals called phthalates (THAL-eights) than those who ate at home.

That’s alarming, but probably not surprising.

Food prepared in restaurants, fast food chains, and cafeterias is served at the very end of a long industrial supply chain that makes it possible for phthalates to leach into food at every step along the way.

In fact, phthalates are found throughout the U.S. food system—not because they’re deliberately added to food, but because they escape into food from plastic tubing, hoses, conveyor belts, gloves, seals, and gaskets.

They build up to the highest levels in fatty and processed foods. One example? Our research last year found phthalates in 29 out of 30 cheese products tested, with the highest concentrations in packaged macaroni and cheese powders.

This is why we’re calling on major food manufacturers like Kraft to take public action to keep toxic phthalates out of food.

This latest study shows people who reported consuming restaurant, fast food, and cafeteria meals had phthalate levels that were nearly 35 percent higher than people who reported eating food purchased at the grocery store.

The study was authored by Julia Varshavsky and Rachel Morello-Frosch at the University of California, Berkeley, Ami Zota at the George Washington University, and Tracey Woodruff at the University of California, San Francisco.

Unfortunately, while preparing food at home may help reduce your exposure to phthalates, phthalates are still in many foods—especially high fat and processed foods—at the grocery store.  

Prior research shows that food is the primary route of phthalates exposure. And this exposure is too high. A 2017 U.S. government study found that up to 725,000 American women of childbearing age are exposed each day to levels of phthalates that threaten the health of a developing baby.

And phthalates exposure is higher among already vulnerable communities, making this an issue of environmental justice. Studies show African-American women are cumulatively exposed to higher levels of these toxic chemicals than white women, and research has linked prenatal phthalates exposure to asthma among inner-city children, and daily exposure to obesity among African-American children.

Bottom line? The food industry needs to detoxify the food system, and get rid of toxic phthalates.

Because the truth is that safer alternatives to phthalates not only exist, they are also widely available. All food companies have to do is find the materials with toxic phthalates and make the switch.

Here’s what you can to do to make that happen: sign our petition to Kraft Heinz, a food industry leader, and demand that they take a stand for health and take public action to keep phthalates out of food.

Together, our voices will make a difference. Thank you for standing up for health!