Toxic Industrial Chemicals a Problem Throughout U.S. Food System, New Research Demonstrates

Coalition for Safer Food Processing & Packaging
News Releases

The Coalition for Safer Food Processing & Packaging Issues Statement on New Study that Finds
Dining Out Associated with Higher Exposure to Toxic Phthalates

March 29, 2018—New independent research on the U.S. population’s exposure to toxic chemicals called phthalates (THAL-eights) broke new ground this week with the finding that Americans who eat more food away from home are exposed to higher levels of these hormone-disrupting chemicals. The study, “Dietary sources of cumulative phthalates exposure among the U.S. general population in NHANES 2005-2014,” was published online on March 29 in the prestigious peer-reviewed journal Environment International.

This new study comes less than a year after a national campaign was launched challenging major food manufacturers to eliminate phthalates from all their products, including the Kraft Heinz Company with its iconic boxed macaroni and cheese and other processed foods. Over the past year, nearly 100,000 people nationwide have signed petitions to Kraft urging the company to take action on phthalates.

Phthalates exposure, especially during pregnancy, is linked to reproductive harm and behavioral problems in children, among other harmful health effects, and disproportionately impacts vulnerable communities.

This research further demonstrates that toxic chemical phthalates are a food system-wide problem, and food manufacturers must take action to protect public health.

In response to the study, Mike Belliveau, executive director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center and coordinator of the Coalition for Safer Food Processing & Packaging, issued the following statement:

“We are grateful to study authors Julia Varshavsky, Ami Zota, Tracey Woodruff, and Rachel Morello-Frosch for this extensive and important new study that found that children and adults alike are exposed to higher levels of these toxic chemicals just by eating popular foods outside of their home, such as cheeseburgers and other sandwiches.

Phthalates are a problem throughout the U.S. food system—even including food prepared at home—as shown by our research that found phthalates in 29 out of 30 cheese products tested.

We were therefore not surprised by these findings, although they are greatly concerning. Phthalates easily migrate into food, yet are unnecessarily added to plastics, rubber, inks, sealants, and other industrial materials used throughout the U.S. food system. Food prepared outside the home is at the end of a long supply chain where phthalates may be found at every point: In materials used on the farm, in processing, in packaging, and in food preparation. Unfortunately, this means that all fatty foods and processed foods likely contain phthalates, so preparing and eating food at home may result in less exposure to phthalates than eating out but won’t eliminate it. (Click here to see our infographic on how phthalates get into food.)

In fact, prior research shows that food is the primary route of phthalates exposure, and a 2017 U.S. government study found that more than 725,000 American women of childbearing age are exposed each day to levels of phthalates that may threaten the health of a developing baby.

Furthermore, phthalates exposure from all sources disproportionately impacts 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.

Meanwhile, safer alternatives to phthalates exist and are widely available.

Yet, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) is refusing to take action to protect the American public and ban phthalates from food contact materials, despite the fact that European regulators acted years ago to protect public health by banning most phthalates from materials that contact high-fat foods, including dairy products. Because of the FDA’s inaction, we’re looking to major food manufacturers to step up and take action to identify and eliminate sources of these toxic chemicals in their supply chains. We’re asking industry giants like Kraft Heinz to listen to consumers’ concerns, demonstrate leadership for health, and take public action to keep these toxic chemicals out of food and replace them with safer alternatives.”

The Coalition for Safer Food Processing & Packaging is a national coalition of nonprofit organizations concerned about human health, food safety, and social justice who are working together to persuade major food manufacturers to identify and eliminate phthalates and other chemicals of high concern from the American food supply. For a list of Coalition members and more information about our work, click here.