The surprising results of a newly published study will shock people who have relied on choosing fresh, local organic foods as one way to avoid controversial chemicals associated with food packaging.
Those families who restricted themselves to fresh organic foods that had not had any contact with plastics saw their levels of both bisphenol-a and phthlates increase after five days of changing their diet. Both chemicals are associated with food packaging, and both are endocrine disrupting chemicals that may have a variety of effects on human health by altering normal hormonal function.
The surprising results contradicted a well-publicized study from March 2011 that showed a family sharply reduced its exposure by avoiding canned foods, plastic wrappers and plastic containers in favor of fresh organic foods.
What's more, the amount of exposure to one phthalate, DEHP, exceeded the dose considered safe by U.S. and international environmental agencies.
So what gives?
The research, published today in ournal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology, suggests that the food itself was contaminated. Specifically, milk and ground coriander.
Sarah Janssen, a senior scientist for the Natural Resources Defense Council, who monitors this issue, wrote:
DEHP and dozens of other phthalates have been approved as food additives since the 1960s by the FDA. They can be used in many types of equipment used in food processing including tubing, gloves, conveyor belts, lids, packaging, plastic wraps, adhesives and inks.
If you think about all the processing that milk goes through from the time it leaves the cow until it is put in the milk bottle, it comes into contact with a lot of tubing and other plastic parts that could leach fat-loving DEHP molecules into milk. In clinical medicine, we already know that PVC tubing can contain high amounts of DEHP and when DEHP tubing comes into contact with fatty liquids, significant amounts of DEHP leach into the liquid. Even FDA has recognized this for medical devices. Milk and other dairy products come into contact with a lot of plastic tubing during processing which could explain why they are contaminated with DEHP.
However, it isn’t obvious how spices could become so highly contaminated with the chemical.
The average consumer who isn't giving up dairy (though there are plenty of good vegan recipes, and health reasons, to recommend that diet) or spices (no one, to our knowledge, has advocated a spiceless diet). And Janssen says that the results aren't definitive enough to offer instructive guidance to consumers:
Wouldn't it be better if the FDA was on top of this and could tell us which foods are most contaminated with phthalates? Don't hold your breath. FDA has not done any testing of the food supply for these chemicals and hasn’t kept track of who is using them since they were first approved for food contact use over 50 years ago.
What we really need is for the FDA to do their job of protecting public health and ensuring all food is safe by revoking approval of of harmful chemicals currently used as food additives.
The authors of the study more or less agreed, writing "In the absence of regulation to reduce phthalate and BPA concentrations in food production, it may be difficult to develop effective interventions that are feasible in the general population."
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