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Many fast foods contain tiny plastics, according to Consumer Reports study

Study finds large amount of foods contain plastics
Study finds large amount of foods contain plastics 03:43

BOSTON - A new study by Consumer Reports found a large amount of the foods we eat contain tiny plastics called phthalates and they can be harmful.

"We wanted to see, number one, are they there in the food? And number two, what were the concentrations?" James Rogers of Consumer Reports told WBZ-TV.

85 food products tested for plastics

The non-profit consumer organization tested 85 different food products for phthalates and the results were concerning.

"Of the 85 different products that we tested, only one had zero phthalates in them," Rogers said.

So-called "heart healthy" Cheerios from General Mills had nearly 11,000 nanograms of phthalates per serving.

Plastics in fast food

Many fast foods came in even higher. Burger King's Whopper with cheese had more than 20,000 nanograms, Wendy's crispy chicken nuggets had nearly 34,000 nanograms per serving.

"We also say, reduce or totally avoid fast food, because in our article, it shows that the fast food was particular high in plasticizers," Roger said.

A meal typically eaten by children topped the list. Annie's Organic Cheesy Ravioli, another General Mills food, had more than 53,000 nanograms of phthalates per serving.

In a statement, a General Mills spokesperson told WBZ TV, "Food safety is our top priority at General Mills. We review the ingredients and packaging we buy and the companies that supply them on a regular cadence. The products tested by Consumer Reports were within regulatory requirements."

Damage caused by plastics in food

Dr. Philip Landrigan, a professor at Boston College who researches chemicals found in food, said plastics are everywhere in food. He told WBZ the chemicals leach out of plastic containers and bags and have the potential to be extremely harmful to your body.

"The phthalates are chemicals that have the ability to disrupt endocrine function. They can cause toxicity to the liver which in turn changes levels of cholesterol and other lipids," Landrigan said. "And they push up rates of heart disease and stroke in the American population."

That is information that has the average consumer questioning what they buy and hoping for some type of regulation.

"If it's affecting people's health and hormones and there are other options, companies probably won't be incentivized to do anything unless there's rules," said shopper Kate Wilson.

Regulating plastics in food

Rules are not in abundance when it comes to plastics in the U.S.

"More than 80% of the chemicals in commerce today have never been tested for safety or efficacy. Where, basically, we and our kids are surrounded by chemicals whose hazard is simply not known."

Rogers said it is up to the manufacturers and the government to regulate this.

"That's why we have called on the FDA for instance, for a total ban of any phthalates or phthalates substitutes or these plasticizers. Just ban them," he told WBZ.

How to avoid plastics in food

Outside of a ban, there a few things you can do to minimize your exposure.

"What we want to do is urge consumers to try to reduce your exposure by not eating as much processed foods," says Rogers. "Don't microwave your food in plastic containers. Don't even store them in plastic containers, use glass. Utensils, look for wooden, silicone or stainless-steel versions. Don't use plastic water bottles if you work out."

Landrigan advises to eat organic as much as possible.

WBZ reached out to Burger King and Wendy's for a comment on this story but did not hear back.

The FDA sent this statement on phthalates and the chemicals' use in food packaging:

"The FDA currently allows nine phthalates in food contact applications (eight for use as plasticizers and one for use as a monomer) in the production of food contact polymers. Phthalates are not authorized to be directly added to food. 

The FDA is aware of updated toxicological and use information on phthalates that is publicly available, but industry stakeholders may have access to important information that is not always made public. On May 19, 2022, the FDA issued a request for information seeking scientific data and information on the specific current food contact uses, use levels, dietary exposure, and safety data for the eight phthalates that are still authorized as plasticizers for use in food contact applications through either a food additive regulation or a prior-sanctioned use. The agency may use this information to update the dietary exposure estimates and safety assessments for the permitted food contact uses of these phthalates."

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