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‘Widespread’ presence of plastics in food, US study concludes

(Source: Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon)

Consumer Reports has found that plastics retain a “widespread” presence in food despite the health risks, and called on regulators to reassess the safety of plastics that come into contact with food during production.

The non-profit consumer group said on Thursday that 84 out of 85 supermarket foods and fast foods it recently tested contained “plasticizers” known as phthalates, a chemical used to make plastic more durable.

It also said 79 per cent of food samples in its study contained bisphenol A (BPA), another chemical found in plastic, and other bisphenols, though levels were lower than in tests done in 2009.

Consumer Reports said none of the phthalate levels it found exceeded limits set by US and European regulators.

It also said there was no level of phthalates that scientists confirm is safe, but that does not guarantee the safety of foods you eat.

Phthalates and bisphenols can disrupt the production and regulation of estrogen and other hormones, potentially boosting the risk of birth defects, cancer, diabetes, infertility, neurodevelopmental disorders, obesity and other health problems.

Among tested supermarket foods, Annie’s Organic Cheesy Ravioli contained the most phthalates in nanograms per serving, 53,579, followed by Del Monte sliced peaches and Chicken of the Sea pink salmon.

Elevated phthalate levels were also found in products such as Cheerios, Gerber baby food and Yoplait yogurt, and several burgers, nuggets and fries from Wendy’s, Burger King and McDonald’s.

Consumer Reports also found variations among similar products. The 33,980 phthalates in nanograms per serving in Wendy’s Crispy Chicken Nuggets, for example, was more than four times the level in McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets.

“That tells us that, as widespread as these chemicals are, there are ways to reduce how much is in our foods,” said James Rogers, who oversees Consumer Reports’ product safety testing.

The consumer group said a reassessment by the US Food and Drug Administration and other agencies of the risks of plasticizers is “overdue and essential.”

Polar raspberry lime seltzer was the only tested product containing no phthalates.

General Mills, whose brands include Annie’s, Cheerios and Yoplait, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Burger King and Wendy’s did not immediately respond to similar requests.

Chicken of the Sea and Del Monte said they do not add phthalates to their food, and receive similar assurances from their suppliers. Del Monte also said that phthalates are “widespread in the environment.”

Gerber and McDonald’s said they follow regulatory requirements, and require rigorous testing for chemicals in packaging.

  • Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Sandra Maler, of Reuters

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