Phthalates, substances categorized as “forever chemicals,” have been found in nearly every American’s bloodstream, coming from the cleaning products they use to the food and drinks they consume.
Though efforts to limit consumption of phthalates first focused on how items are packaged, particularly in plastic food packaging, some foods themselves may be what’s making you ingest more forever chemicals than you realized.
New research from Consumer Reports found phthalates in 99% of products it tested, regardless of their packaging type or if they were certified organic.
And some products found to have high levels of phthalates are staples in many American pantries, such as General Mills’ Original Cheerios, Del Monte sliced peaches, Chicken of the Sea pink salmon, Fairlife Core Power high-protein chocolate milkshakes and Yoplait Original French vanilla low-fat yogurt.
Annie’s Organic cheesy ravioli was found to have the highest levels of phthalate, the report said, and some products had different phthalate levels even under the same company, with Chef Boyardee’s Big Bowl Beefaroni pasta in meat sauce having less than half the amount of its Beefaroni pasta in tomato and meat sauce.
Other products with concerning levels of phthalates are popular fast food restaurant items, with Consumer Reports’ research pointing to Wendy’s chicken nuggets, Chipotle’s chicken burrito and Burger King’s Whopper with cheese as phthalate-ridden.
The only product that did not contain phthalates that the agency tested was Polar raspberry lime seltzer.
Another chemical Consumer Reports watched for is bisphenol, or BPA. It detected this in 79% of its samples, but that rate is much lower than in its last BPA research in 2009, which suggests at least a move in the right direction.
Phthalates and bisphenols, or BPAs, are both forever chemicals found in plastics. Phthalates are often called plasticizers, as they make plastic more flexible and durable. They’re often used in food production like packaging, conveyor belts, gloves and jar lids. BPAs can be found in some food can linings and older plastic food and drink containers.
Both chemicals are linked to various health risks, potentially increasing risk of hormonal disruption, diabetes, obesity, certain cancers, cardiovascular disease and more. Scientists haven’t confirmed a certain level of ingesting these to be safe, but they do suggest lower levels are better.
Though some laws regulate the use of bisphenols in packaging, few regulations currently exist regarding the restriction of using phthalates.
A 2021 study published in the National Library of Medicine stated more countries should establish constraints on phthalates to reduce health risks, such as risks to pregnancy success and child growth and development. But in 2023, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration rejected a petition calling for a ban on their use in food packaging and processing, saying it needed more proof of their lack of safety.
But Consumer Reports’ new research states it’s not just the packaging and processing step that’s become dangerous, and its scientists say we now need to figure out how the chemicals are being introduced to the food in other ways.
Beyond food production methods, Consumer Reports points to plastics in trash and landfills that may degrade and leak into water and soil, which could then be consumed by animals or used to grow produce.
“The more we learn about these chemicals, including how widespread they are, the more it seems clear that they can harm us even at very low levels,” said Tunde Akinleye, the Consumer Reports scientist who oversaw the testing.