Restaurant food often contaminated with plastic based chemicals

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To eat in or not to eat in - that is the question.

We often eat out because it’s convenient and give us tired parents a break from cooking and cleaning. But as convenient eating out is, you know the usual arguments against it: preservatives, MSG, hygiene issues among others. However, recent research has revealed another compelling reason to reduce the frequency of eating out — restaurants may offer you and your family foods contaminated with plastic. 

Food for thought: Restaurant foods contaminated with plastic? 

Recently, a study from researchers in the US found that there were unhealthy plastic-based chemicals called phthalates in certain foods. In particular, these were foods purchased from restaurants, cafeterias and food courts. 

What are Phthalates? 

Phthalates are chemicals found in plastic that make it more flexible and less easy to break. As such it is very commonly found in the environment, such as in printing ink, flooring and cling-wrap, and as a contaminant in air. 

These contaminants are easily released into different environmental compartments, leading to subsequent human exposure and uptake. Humans can be exposed to phthalates using a product containing it, through phthalate leaching from one product into another, or by environmental contamination.

Although we are continually exposed to phthalates, the largest source of human exposure to phthalates comes from the diet. Foods that are purchased from eating out have higher levels of phthalathes compared to home cooked food. These phthalates likely leached into foods when they came in contact with them from the plastic packaging and food processing.

Scientists inferred this when they took urine samples of people in a study in the US, after asking questions on where they ate last. They found out that sandwiches could be linked to 30% higher levels in phthalates compared to their home counterparts. 

Sadly, with the advent of modern industrialisation, avoiding phthalate exposure, and hence foods contaminated with plastic, is nearly inevitable in most parts of the globe. Not only can phthalates be found in many countries but also in very minimal (and safe) concentrations in baby foods. 

Researchers investigating phthalate exposure to people in China concluded that the concentrations of phthalates in foods and air were among the highest worldwide

Unfortunately, phthalates are also associated with several ill effects to human health.

Health risks of eating foods contaminated with plastic 

Phthalates belong to a class of chemicals called Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). These EDCs are present in the environment at very low levels. However, even low concentrations can cause serious health problems such as reproductive damage, cancer in females and males, obesity and diabetes.

EDCs damage normal physiological reactions related to the female and male reproductive system. Possible effects of EDCs on reproductive tract development have mostly been studied in males.

The hypothesis that congenital malformations in the male reproductive tract (hypospadias and cryptorchidism) and adult male reproductive disorders are part of a spectrum of disorders due to impaired testes differentiation is termed the testicular dysgenesis syndrome (TDS).

Phthalates can disrupt the development and the function of the female reproductive tract. This can lead to abnormalities such as menstrual cycle irregularities, impaired fertility, and alteration of female hormone concentration. 

In men, phthalate exposure affects the reproductive system and reproductive hormones, leading to altered sex hormones. Some recent studies also show that phthalates can cause a decline in sperm quality and induce DNA damage.

In another study, the authors concluded that the reduction of chemical exposures was associated with a reduction in prevalent diabetes. Overall, over 100,000 cases of diabetes in Europe and billions in associated costs could be prevented.

Knowing all this, how can we reduce phthalate exposure and foods contaminated with plastic?

Ways to reduce phthalates in your system

Dr Frank Lipman’s Daily Dose Blog recommends the following ways to reduce phthalate concentration in your body: 

  • Avoid plastic containers to store food. Instead, use suitable substitutes like glass containers, stainless steel or silicone bottles and zippered cloth bags instead of plastic food storage bags.   
  • If you must use plastic, avoid putting it in the microwave or dishwasher. Do replace plastic containers if they are used often. 
  • Eat diets rich in plant food, such as fruits, vegetables, beans, grains, nuts, and seeds.You can eat beans as a protein source; nuts or avocado as a fat souce, and kale or collard greens for calcium. 
  • Eat organic and grass-fed produce, meat, and dairy. Phthalates are used in pesticides and herbicides, which aren’t permitted on certified organic produce.  
  • Choose low-fat meat and dairy. Unfortunately, foods that are higher in fat are particularly prone to chemical leaching. Most farms use plastic tubing to milk their cows, which introduces phthalates at the start of the production process, and the chemicals then hang out in the fattiest part of the milk. 
  • Invest in a water filter, such as granular activated carbon filters which should remove DEHP, the type of phthalate used in water pipes.
  • Avoid processed foods. Phthalate contamination is yet another reason to stick to whole foods as much as possible. A good way of doing this is by cooking at home!

Benefits of eating at home 

In addition to avoiding foods contaminated with plastic, there are many other benefits to eating in. According to the University of Washington, the 6 main benefits of eating at home are that it:

  • saves money. Eating out means paying for other non-food costs, such as electricity and packaging.
  • saves time. Planning ahead and cooking easy meals can be done in 30 minutes or less. Bulk foods can also be stored for future meals. 
  • uses healthier ingredients. Cooking on your own ensures you know what’s inside your food, without the preservatives, additives or foods contaminated with plastic!
  • controls portions easier. It’s much easier to have smaller portions at home and there’s less temptation to finish everything.
  • avoids food allergies and sensitivities. You are in control of your kitchen and can reduce chances of allergic foods coming to your meals. 
  • brings family together. Not only can you have fun making meals with your kids, but eating together is linked to less obesity and kids doing better in school.


foods contaminated with plastic

Eating at home is crucial for developmental and health wellbeing.

Not sure what to cook at home? Here are some easy recipes by theAsianparent for you and your family to try!

Stir fried beef with green beans and broccoli

Why it’s healthy: It’s a great way to trick your toddler to eat veggies! 

How to make: Soften the beef strips, cut them to bite sized portions and then marinate them in Tamari sauce for at least an hour. Cut the veggies. Then, heat your oil in a wok or big based fry pan and then add the meat. Brown it lightly cooking for 1 – 2 minutes. Add veggies and garlic and stir through before adding the oyster sauce. Cook for about 3 minutes and you’re done!

Sugar-free green tea coconut ice cream

Why it’s healthy: Your tots will love this sugar-free, 3 ingredient healthy dessert! 

How to make: Into a blender container, pour coconut milk. Add pitted dates, matcha green tea powder, and salt. Turn the blender on for 2 minutes until the dates fully dissolve into the coconut milk.

Pour the coconut mixture into a bowl, and cool it in the fridge for 1 hour. Then, using an ice cream churner, churn the ice cream until it is the consistency of soft serve ice cream, about 30 minutes. 

If you don’t have an ice cream churner, use a wooden spoon and stir every few alternate hours in between the freezing time.

Store the ice cream in a sealed container in the freezer. When you are ready to eat it, thaw it on the counter for 15 minutes. Finally, scoop it up into a cone to serve – kids love that!

Try other recipes here: Singaporean Home Cooked Recipes your toddle will love!

We at theAsianparent hope that this information is useful and will spur families to cook more at home and avoid foods contaminated with plastic.

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