Phthalates in Supermarket Foods


Someone tested it.

And just like many of us who have MCS/ES have been saying for years:

Supermarket food is contaminated with fragrance and plastic chemicals.

supermarket food contaminated

That study, “Phthalate Concentrations and Dietary Exposure from Food Purchased in New York State” led by Arnold Schecter from University of Texas School of Public Health, looked for 9 different phthalates in 72 individual food samples purchased in Albany, New York, and found some in every food tested!

“While estimated intakes for individual phthalates in this study were more than an order of magnitude lower than EPA Reference Doses (RfDs), cumulative exposure to phthalates is of concern.”

Since we can’t really depend on the EPA to set health protective guidelines with all the industry meddling they get,  we know the levels need to be way lower than anything suggested. Not only that, but for those of us with MCS/ES, who need to avoid exposure to phthalates and other fragrance chemicals (just like people with celiac disease have to avoid gluten) this presents a huge access problem in regards to finding safe food to eat.

I haven’t been able to eat anything from a supermarket for over 7 years. I can taste the fabric softener, dryer sheet and fragrance chemicals in anything that isn’t in glass, foil or a tin. And even the organic foods I used to get that were in glass (organic jams and applesauce) no longer sat well with me, most likely due to plastic phthalates and other chemical contamination during processing.

Paper and plastic packaging allow the fragrance chemicals to reach the food, as they too absorb them. I used to buy frozen organic blueberries that came in plastic tubs, from the opposite side of the supermarket where the cleaning products are. Didn’t matter, those too had absorbed the fragrance chemicals.

Back in about 2006 or 2007 I wrote around asking if anyone had ever tested the organic produce from a supermarket to see if it could still qualify as organic after being exposed to the airborne chemicals. No-one was interested.

In another new study, “Unexpected results in a randomized dietary trial to reduce phthalate and bisphenol A exposures” also just released, and reviewed here, they tested for phthalates and BPA, using specially designed diets that included organic foods and  were supposed to reduce the intake of these chemicals. They were shocked to find increased levels.

Ariel Schwartz wrote:

“The authors conclude in their study: “It may be that our findings reflect an isolated rare contamination event because of unusual processing or a packaging abnormality. It also could be the case that the food supply is systematically contaminated with high phthalate concentrations, which are difficult to identify.”

What to do?

We need to get fragranced products away from food, simply because chemicals and food should not be stored in the same air space (hello grocery stores, I’m pointing a finger at you here, as well as any food prep facility that has a so called air “freshener” anywhere on the premises)  and stop using plastics that leach out chemicals and don’t protect foods from absorbing other chemicals floating around in the air.

I’ve ended up having to buy all my produce from organic farmers markets or an organic delivery service that doesn’t use fragranced products in their warehouse. I still sometimes get fragrance contaminated food, most likely from people who have recently applied lotion or sanitizer to their hands just before handling the foods. I am unable to buy prepared foods even from organic farmers, because when I did, I could taste their conventional dish detergent in the food! Not everyone who grows organic food knows the other chemical risks we all face. I recently saw photos of fair trade organic cacao beans being dried out in the sun on plastic tarps. Eggs are another challenge, since once they are washed, they absorb all fragrances. So some of us have to do without, a lot…

Glass, foil and food grade cellophane are best at protecting foods and things, but the foods and things need to be grown, manufactured, processed  and handled in ways that prevent contamination before delivery to us, the end users.

We need better regulations and more people who care!

Like Dr Seuss wrote:

“UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
nothing is going to get better. It’s just not.”

22 responses to “Phthalates in Supermarket Foods

  1. Awesome. Learned a lot. Am sharing.

  2. How you find these studies. Amazing. I figure workers store chemicals near food in store rooms. I reported eggs with laundry chemical smell and manufacturer was notified but no one understood really. I dream of ei centers in every major city helping us get food and resources.

    • I am interested in science and research so know of some places where to look and get on email lists to receive updates. Not that I’ve been able to read most of them the past few years, but every once in a while something does catch my attention long enough to notice… If I’m lucky now, I can read through some of them…

      We definitely need safe centers everywhere. The need is growing. Too many people are being poisoned by everyday toxic chemicals.

  3. Linda…. well written and spot on!

    • Thanks! Too bad though… Five years since this changed my relationship with access to food, and probably many years after others before me noticed and complained.
      I tried speaking with the supermarket owners/managers back in 2005-2006, saying the food was absorbing the chemicals and shouldn’t be kept together, but they were constrained by head office layout rules. They couldn’t do anything even if they wanted to.

  4. Dear Linda,

    Thanks for your great updates on MCS issues. I was wondering whether you would like to help post regular bits on the MCS-Aware Facebook page? MCS-Aware is a small UK charity set up to provide information and support to people with chemical, food and electro-sensitivities and we have members woldwide. As we grow I have less and less time to look at news and research, so I’m looking for someone to give me a hand with regular postings. Is this something that might interest you? We don’t have funding so it would have to be voluntary I’m afraid. Let me know if you would like any more info..

    Best wishes, Nicki Greenham CEO, The Charity for Environmental Illness

    W: E: P: 56 Gaping Lane, Hitchin, Herts. SG5 2JE (UK) Follow us on Facebook and Twitter: ‘MCSAware’

  5. Ran across a 2010 blog post on the same issue:
    “Are grocery stores the cause of cross-contamination of our food?”

  6. A good article on this issue from Lynne Peeples:
    “Chemical Creep: How Toxic Chemicals Are Sneaking Into Your Food, And Your Body”

  7. It’s so great to have this confirmed in a study; I just got sick last week from eating some local organic vegetables from a supermarket that were contaminated by laundry detergent fumes. Foods need to be kept safe from these toxic chemicals. The only food I can tolerate from supermarkets are (loose–not prebagged) local sweet potatoes, as they seem to be too dense and dry to absorb these chemicals. Everything else I get from farmers markets.

  8. I know this post is very old, but I ran across it after a Google search because I ate a contaminated cereal today and had to go to the ER. Opened a brand new box of my daughter’s organic kids cereal and immediately smelled a strong fabric softener smell. We don’t use dryer sheets or fabric softeners or any chemically fragranced products at all. I thought maybe a neighbor was doing laundry and the smell wafted in. Poured a bowl of cereal and ate two pieces. My mouth immediately got dry & tingly and I tasted the chemical I was smelling. I got sick and threw up several times. I drank a lot of water to flush it out and tried everything to remove the taste from my mouth. I went to the ER where they ran a few basic tests, but they didn’t find anything out of the ordinary. I know my body very well and I feel like even that tiny amount strained my internal organs and stomach lining. In short, it was toxic and I could feel it. I feel very lucky that my daughter didn’t try the cereal on her own or have it served to her. I want to know if there is anywhere that you know of where I could get this box tested.

    • I wish I did know someone willing to test more. Many of us can no longer eat foods from a supermarket, or even a “health” food store, unless the “product” is packaged in glass or foil, as paper and plastic just absorb all the chemicals from the surroundings.

      We truly need fragrance-free (and other toxic chem free) supply chains, so many people are developing allergies, “sensitivities” and other adverse effects from the poisons we are being subjected to on a daily basis, thanks to the fragrance chemical industry, the plastics industry, the oil, gas, and petrochemical industry…

      Maybe your area has a farmers market, CSA’s, organic food delivery services? Or smaller shops that don’t have the toxics aisles?

      Whatever the case, take it back for a refund. I suspect the contamination was from the store air, or delivery truck even. Cereals can be sat next to fabric softeners and dryer sheets etc in the delivery trucks.

      • Thank you so much for replying so quickly. I am fortunate to live in an area (Northern California) where we have year round weekly farmers markets. The cereal happened to be purchased from a small, local grocery store that stocks lots of organic, natural, & local products. I called them to tell them about it and they didn’t seem particularly surprised. I was less concerned with a refund and more concerned with children eating something toxic like this (or even an adult like me!) I would love to live in a fragrance-free world! I get nauseaus from artificial fragrance or chemicals pretty easily. I hope I am not on the path to developing MCS. I hadn’t heard of it until I read this post.

        • Most people can’t taste the difference anymore, they live such fragrance-chemical saturated lives.

          I’m glad you have access to the farmers markets, as buying from the farmer you can find out exactly how they grow their food, and what you will be eating and feeding your kids.

          If you get nauseous and have other symptoms from fragrances and chemicals, that pretty much means you have the membership card to the world of MCS. Oregon Public Health has a brochure on MCS, but there’s a lot of (industry) opposition to having it properly recognized, so many people who do develop it never understand what’s going on or how to prevent things from getting worse.

          Click to access MCS%20fact%20sheet.pdf

          There’s the Environmental Health Network in the Bay area too. Might be good to connect with people there.

          You can take precautions, and if you aren’t subjected to any major exposures that would be good!

          IE no new homes or renovations as new building materials can push people over the edge… stay away from pesticide applications… Educate yourself and live clean, make your own food from real ingredients instead of buying processed.

          Don’t get caught up in fears, as that kind of stress can exacerbate things, but do take precautions <3

          On the MCS/ES tab at the top, there's some more info and links.

          I'm not great with gentle introductions, years ago I fell over the cliff into the deep end of things, so my personal stuff is in the worst case scenario category, which is hard to relate to…

          There are some great support groups on fb where people share helpful tips etc. If you are on fb, have a look for them. Also, there's some really good environmental health pages for groups that are working on toxics reform and helping people search out less toxic alternatives.

          People are waking up to the need for change, and the need to get involved to make the necessary changes happen.
          We all need clean (pollution free) air, clean (pollution free) water, and clean (pollution free) food!

  9. If You Eat Fast Food You’re Getting a Generous Helping of Toxic Chemicals

    New study shows that consumption of fast food is linked to higher levels of phthalates, the chemicals used to produce many plastics.

    By Elizabeth Grossman on April 13, 2016

    …”Phthalates are used extensively in plastics, including food packaging and processing equipment, medical equipment, flooring, toys, and countless other consumer products.

    They’ve also been used as preservatives in synthetic fragrances and in personal care products and cosmetics, including lotions, nail polishes, shampoos, deodorant, and baby wipes to name but a few.

    Phthalates can migrate out of all these products and can be inhaled, absorbed through skin, and ingested.

    Phthalates are so widely used that scientists consider them “ubiquitous” and the CDC has found them in the bodies of well over 90 percent of Americans tested.

    In animal studies certain phthalates have been shown to interfere with the male reproductive system.

    Many studies have linked phthalate exposure to adverse reproductive, respiratory, and neurobehavioral health effects in children and to increased risk for metabolic disease.

    Based on concerns among medical and public health professionals, a number of phthalates are now barred from use in children’s products by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

    While different phthalates can produce different health effects, the two phthalates tracked in this study are considered endocrine disrupters and associated with these effects.” …

    The new study can be found here:

  10. Since the advent of heavily scented dryer sheets, anything wrapped in plastic absorbs the fragrance. It just doesn’t happen at the grocers; it happens during shipping on trucks and in warehouses where everything is stored together. The food products are most likely contaminated long before the items reach the shelves…

    Thanks for the informative post. Shared on social media.

  11. Thank you for this post and thread. I stumbled upon it after googling food and fragrance because I just had an experience that makes me sound “crazy” to folks without MCS (now being called TILT). The last batch of food brought home from the grocery store just wreaked of dryer sheets and only food had been purchased. This is common but it is getting worse. As the time I’ve spent away from chemicals and fragrances increases (at least the ones I can avoid), so does my ability to notice fragrances. The amount being used in products and the strength of them is also increasing. I just opened a bag of organic cereal. The outside doesn’t have a scent but the inside is as strong as if there are sheets in it. I couldn’t believe it so I stupidly smelled it a few times. Now of course I am reacting, so my comment might not be the most articulate. Just wanted to add my two cents to keep this thread alive and thank you and all who commented for making this lonely illness a little less lonely today.

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