The Dangerous Chemicals Found in Fast Food and Restaurants

Two years ago, Ami Zota studied fast food consumption in the United States and found that as millions of people are eating fast food outside their homes, they’re also ingesting harmful chemicals.  

Called phthalates, this class of chemicals is linked to infertility, pregnancy complications, diabetes, obesity and cancer. They’re found in plastics, lotions, cosmetics, personal care products, vinyl flooring, and other common household items. But they’re also found in the gloves, boxes and plastic wrap used to prepare food.

The 2016 study revealed that those who reported eating more fast food were exposed to as much as 40 percent more phthalates than those who ate at home in the span of 24 hours. Grain-based foods, including bread, cake, pizza, burritos, rice, and noodles, and burgers and other meat were the most significant contributors to phthalate exposure.

According to Zota, ScD, MS, an assistant professor of environmental and occupational health at the Milken Institute School of Public Health, these findings were especially worrisome because of the number of serious health concerns associated with exposure to phthalates.

In March 2018, Zota and other researchers published the findings of a broader study that examined the phthalate levels of those who ate different types of food away from home. This included restaurant food, cafeteria food and fast food. 

Bar charts showing phthalate levels of people who eat different types of food.

View the text-only version of this graphic.

Citation for this content: MPH@GW, the online MPH program from the Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University