A new dietary intervention study suggests that an individual may not be able to avoid food packaging chemicals like phthalates (plastic softeners) and BPA (found in canned foods and older hard plastic containers) by cutting out canned and plastic-wrapped foods because these chemicals can—and do—enter the food during processing.
Researchers from the University of Washington replicated the 2011 Breast Cancer Fund and Silent Spring Institute dietary intervention study and found DEHP (a phthalate used in food packaging) levels increased 24-fold during the intervention.
The researchers were puzzled by this finding—our study found phthalate and BPA levels declined during the intervention diet—so they followed up by testing spices and dairy used in the intervention diet. They found high levels of DEHP in spices like coriander, cinnamon and cayenne pepper, as well as in dairy products.
The researchers also found modest increases in BPA during the intervention. This finding may be due to a study population who already ate mostly fresh foods—in fact, only three of the 10 families who participated indicated eating canned foods.
These findings underscore the need for federal reform of food contact laws that can ensure chemicals linked to hormone disruption don't end up in our food supply. The FDA has the authority to regulate chemicals our food touches at all points in the process from field to table: from the type of plastic tubing used in milking equipment, to the containers spices are held in before being divvied up in store-shelf sizes, to the plastic wrap on supermarket cheese.
Our role is to see that the FDA actually uses this power to protect our health.
For more on this study, check out Fast Company (You’re Eating Toxic Chemicals, Even If You Eat Organic And Avoid Plastic) and the NRDC blog (What's for lunch? Likely a few hormone-disrupting chemicals – phthalates and BPA).