Eating Out Increases Risks from Dangerous Food Chemicals, say researchers

There is another important study just out from researchers at George Washington University and the University of California Berkeley and San Francisco concerning the dangers of food chemicals in restaurant and fast foods.  More specifically, the study examined whether dining out increased consumers’ exposure to cancer causing food chemicals such as phthalates.  The answer?  Yes.  More specifically, “dining out risks elevated levels of potentially harmful chemicals linked to diseases including cancer in the body”.

Over the past several years we have reported on numerous scientific studies linking processed foods and personal care/home care products to elevated levels of dangerous chemicals in consumers tested, as well as about the dangers of phthalates in particular.  Phthalates are hormone-disrupting chemicals commonly found in a variety of food packaging and can migrate into the food itself.  “Many products contain phthalates, including take-home boxes, gloves used in handling food, food processing equipment and other items used in the production of restaurant, cafeteria and fast food meals. Previous research suggests these chemicals can leach from plastic containers or wrapping into food.”

Phthalates are used to make a range of plastics soft, flexible and durable, from shower curtains to nail polish and moisturizer. They can leach into food from processed materials such as food packaging, takeout boxes, gloves used by servers and processing equipment, and disrupt hormones in the body. A number of studies have linked several specific phthalates to breast cancer, type 2 diabetes and fertility issues.

– What Are Phthalates? Dining Out ‘Raises Level of Chemicals Linked to Cancer’ Newsweek

Study overview

Researchers examined data from 10,253 participants of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), collected between 2005 and 2014. They found levels of the chemicals were 35 percent higher in those who regularly ate at restaurants, cafeterias and fast-food places.

The association was found to be highest for adolescents. Teenagers who ate the most amount of food purchased outside the home had 55 percent higher levels of phthalates in their urine than those eating home-cooked meals…

The study is the latest by the team to find a link between fast food and phthalates in humans. Previous studies showed a 40 percent higher level of phthalates in those who often ate fast food compared with those who rarely consumed it…

Researchers also found that certain foods, and especially cheeseburgers and other sandwiches, were associated with increased levels of phthalates — but only if they were purchased at a fast-food outlet, restaurant or cafeteria. The study found that sandwiches consumed at fast food outlets, restaurants or cafeterias were associated with 30 percent higher phthalate levels in all age groups…

A previous study by one of the researchers, Dr. Ami Zota, suggested that fast food may expose consumers to higher levels of phthalates. That study found that people who ate the most fast food, burgers, fries and other foods, had phthalate levels that were as much as 40 percent higher than people who rarely ate such foods.

The new study looked more broadly at dining out — not just at fast-food outlets — and found that it was significantly associated with increased exposure to phthalates. The authors say the findings are worrisome because two-thirds of the U.S. population eats at least some food outside the home daily.

“This study suggests food prepared at home is less likely to contain high levels of phthalates, chemicals linked to fertility problems, pregnancy complications and other health issues…Our findings suggest that dining out may be an important and previously under-recognized source of exposure to phthalates for the U.S. population.”

– Ami Zota, senior author, assistant professor of environmental and occupational health at Milken Institute School of Public Health (Milken Institute SPH) at the George Washington University.

Dining out associated with increased exposure to harmful chemicals

New study finds burgers and other foods consumed at restaurants, fast food outlets or cafeterias, associated with higher levels of phthalates


Dining out more at restaurants, cafeterias and fast-food outlets may boost total levels of potentially health-harming chemicals called phthalates in the body, according to a study out today. Phthalates, a group of chemicals used in food packaging and processing materials, are known to disrupt hormones in humans and are linked to a long list of health problems.

The study is the first to compare phthalate exposures in people who reported dining out to those more likely to enjoy home-cooked meals. People who reported consuming more restaurant, fast food and cafeteria meals had phthalate levels that were nearly 35 percent higher than people who reported eating food mostly purchased at the grocery store, according to the study.

Conclusion: Phthalate contamination of the food supply represents a larger public health problem, one that must be addressed by policymakers.



Journal Reference: Julia Varshavsky, et al. Dietary sources of cumulative phthalates exposure among the U.S. general population in NHANES 2005-2014. Environment International, 2018.


Also see: Phthalates – Breast Cancer Prevention Partners (BCPP)