Plastics contain phthalates. These are substances added to plastics to increase their flexibility, durability and transparency. Many plastic household items such as food containers as well as toys, cleaning agents and personal care products contain elements of phthalates.
Studies now show an association between exposure to phthalates and development of many chronic conditions like asthma, breast cancer, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Type 2 diabetes, neuro-developmental disorders, low IQ, altered reproductive development and autism spectrum disorder.
Eating out increases levels
A new study published in the Journal of Environmental International investigating levels of phthalates in the human body found people who eat out had up to 40 per cent higher levels of contamination from phthalates compared to those who eat home-cooked meals.
Common fast foods like burgers and meaty sandwiches were linked to higher phthalates but only if purchased out, not home-made, suggesting that animal protein might be a stronger vehicle for phthalates.
The association between fast food consumption and high levels of phthalates was stronger in teenagers, with those who ate out having up to 55 per cent more phthalate metabolites compared to those who ate at home.
The study went further to suggest food prepared at home contains lower levels of this chemical compared to takeout.
Food is also likely contaminated with phthalates during processing. They can leach out of materials used to manufacture food processing equipment and into the food. Food preparation gloves are another common source.
Aim at consuming whole fresh foods at home as much as possible
Limit packed and processed foods
Use glass or stainless steel for food preparation
Avoid micro waving food using plastic containers since heat can cause phthalates to seep out into the food.
Fatty foods contaminate easily, so it is prudent to reduce their intake.
A consumer can only do so much to reduce intake of phthalates. Regulatory bodies concerned with food manufacturing processes and packaging have a higher role to play in protecting the wider population.