That restaurant cheeseburger may come with a pinch of harmful chemical

That restaurant cheeseburger may come with a pinch of harmful chemical

You may have more to watch than calories during that next meal out. Think plastics.

A study published in the journal Environment International found far higher levels of a group of chemicals called phthalates [THAL-ates] in people who reported recently dining out compared with those who ate at home.

Phthalates are a ubiquitous byproduct of the modern age. They make plastics more flexible and harder to break. They are commonly used in food take-home boxes, in gloves used by food workers and in food processing equipment commonly found in restaurants, fast-food joints and cafeterias.

Scientists say low levels of the chemicals can leach into food.

That could be a problem because phthalates have been associated by some research with health problems, including asthma, obesity, breast cancer, diabetes and male fertility issues, among others. The plastics industry says such worries amount to fearmongering.

The researchers used data from a federal survey in which about 10,000 participants were asked what they had eaten in the previous 24 hours. Their urine was then tested for phthalate byproducts.

People who reported dining out, including take-out and delivery food, had phthalate levels 35 percent higher than those who mostly ate at home. Researchers are unsure about what the effects might be of these high levels.

We all know how difficult it can be to stop an adolescent from hitting a fast-food restaurant with friends. So, as you might expect, their phthalate levels were a whopping 55 percent higher, the study said.

Researchers said efforts may need to be made to limit phthalate exposure in food production practices.

Thankfully, they aren’t suggesting we stop eating out.

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