Do you like your burgers well done with a side of plastic?
Probably not. But a new study suggests that fast food often comes with a sizable helping of plastic-softening chemicals that could potentially lead to hormone disruption, infertility and learning disabilities.
At issue are phthalates and other so-called “replacement plasticizers.” Manufacturers use these chemicals to help soften the plastics found in products that are routinely used when handling food. Those include gloves, conveyor belts, packaging, wrapping and tubes.
The problem: phthalates and their plasticizer cousins don’t seem to stay in their lane, easily migrating into the foods with which they come into contact. The study’s researchers warn that between 70% and 86% of the fast foods they tested contained some type of phthalate or plasticizer.
“We think our findings suggest that phthalates and replacement plasticizers are widespread in fast food meals,” study author Lariah Edwards says. She’s a postdoctoral scientist in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health in Washington, D.C.
The finding didn’t strike Edwards as particularly surprising, given that items sold at fast-food chains “are so heavily processed, packaged and handled.”
Edwards also warns consumers that fast-food chains aren’t the only problem. “It is not only [about] processed foods” at fast-food chains — any food that’s handled in any restaurant setting can be exposed to such chemicals”, she notes.
How do phthalates affect your health?
Edwards stresses that this is a significant concern. “Since fast food meals are such a large part of the American diet,” and because “phthalates are known to disrupt hormones in humans, and are linked to a long list of health problems, such as