Chemicals that can cause developmental issues, learning disabilities, and reproductive problems are common in fast food meals, new research suggests. Samples taken from Burger King, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Domino’s, and Chipotle all included these industrial-use chemicals.
The chemicals are called phthalates, and they’re used to make plastics softer in industrial settings. About 80 percent of the fast food samples collected (all from restaurants in the San Antonio, Texas, market) contained small traces of phthalates.
Other studies have already determined these chemicals to be endocrine disruptors — one of the biggest threats to basic human health our modern world (which loves plastic) faces. According to one 2020 study, endocrine disruptors like phthalates may “induce alterations in puberty, the development of testicular dysgenesis syndrome, cancer, and fertility disorders in both males and females.”
Phthalates are used for a variety of purposes, but are often found in rubber gloves and industrial tubing. Many other similar chemicals that disrupt the endocrine system also find their way into the human body via modern products like floss, water bottles, and one-time use products. Finding phthalates in food is particularly disturbing, though, considering how many people eat fast-food daily.
The toxic fast food chemicals were found most in meat products
The most likely culprit is the packaging, distribution, and then handling process. The food, itself, isn’t necessarily tainted from the farm or meat processor. It’s the constant touching of plastic in containers, boxes, and rubber gloves that likely causes the problems.
According to researchers, meat products contained the highest levels of the chemicals, while products like cheese pizzas and fries had the lowest levels.
When ordering the burgers, the researchers ordered them with cheese, tomatoes, pickles, onions, lettuce, and select condiments. They also ordered a la carte hamburger patties without any toppings.
They also ordered two different burritos, one with white rice, black beans, cheese, mild salsa, and lettuce; and the other with refried pinto beans, cheese, onions, sour cream, tomatoes, lettuce, and tomato-based sauce.