If pink slime wasn’t enough to convince you to quit fast food, the latest news about what you’re getting at the drive-thru might just do it. Turns out, your combo meal may come with an unexpected side of phthalates, chemicals most commonly used in industrial plastics manufacturing. Yum.
In a new report published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, researchers asked 8,877 people to fill out detailed questionnaires about what they ate in the past 24 hours. They also provided urine samples, which were tested for phthalates. People who ate the most fast food (think: 35 percent or more of their total calories in the past 24 hours) had phthalate levels up to 40 percent higher than in those who avoided these quickie eats.
Here’s why this news is giving us Fear Factor-esque food nightmares: The EPA classifies pthalates as “probable human carcinogens” and previous research suggests that exposure to them may have serious long-term effects on health, including infertility. That’s one of the reasons why certain phthalates were banned from children’s toys in 2008.
The researchers note that previous studies have found that these potentially harmful compounds can leach from packaging materials into food. But this study was one of the first large-scale efforts to measure exposure to the chemical from fast food. Want to know what to avoid? Meat and grains seemed to be the most significant sources of phthalate exposure, researchers found. (We’re assuming no news is good news when it comes to the fries…)
Bottom line: Next time you’re jonesing for a Big Mac, you might want to reconsider. Because the only plastic in your happy meal should come in the free toy.