Food processing & plastics

  • Phthalates and bisphenol A (BPA) are widely used chemicals that can adversely affect human health. Human exposure is ubiquitous and can occur through diet, including the consumption of processed or packaged foods (1,5,15,19).
  • Typically, processed foods are found packaged in plastic containers. The same applies to food sold by fast food chains. They undergo a great deal of processing, packaging and handling, so people who frequently consume fast food meals or other packaged-processed foods are particularly vulnerable to increased exposure to plasticisers (1,5,15).
  • Studies conducted in Japan found that the use of disposable PVC gloves in the preparation and packaging of meals was a major source of dietary intake of DEHP (phthalate) and that sterilisation of gloves with alcohol increased its migration into food. The same study group also showed a decrease in DEHP levels in prepared meals after DEHP was banned in PVC gloves in Japan (5).
  • An Italian study comparing DEHP and di-n-butyl phthalate (phthalate) levels in school meals before and after packaging the food found that packaging increased phthalate concentrations by more than 100% (5).
  • Participants in one study with a high intake of fast food had 20-40% higher urinary phthalate concentrations than those who did not consume fast food (5).
  • Women who consumed hamburgers three or more times a week had 20% higher urinary BPA levels than non-hamburger consumers (5).
  • A Norwegian study identified that the starchy parts of a ready-to-eat meal contribute more to the estimated daily intake of plasticisers. Since these products are found on the outside of foods such as pizza or burritos, they may come into greater contact with packaging materials (7).
  • Another study conducted in 2021 showed that even if fast food companies have paper or cardboard packaging, there is a small percentage of phthalates found in food. Of the 54 packaging samples tested, 10 samples contained no concentrations and of those that did, low concentrations were observed. These data indicate that phthalates from fast food paper packaging do not contribute significantly to the overall exposure of consumers (5).