Study Finds Shockingly High Phthalate Levels in Food Seasonings and Dairy Products


You’d think that eating organic food straight from the farm should pretty well get the job done when it comes to avoiding toxic chemicals, right?  Well it may not be that easy after all.

A new study published in the Nature Journal of Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology focused specifically on decreasing BPA and phthalate exposure.  Participating families were divided into to two groups.  One group was given instructions on how to effectively reduce their exposure to phthalates and BPA, while the other group was provided with local, fresh, organic food catered in for them.  Plastic containers were never used during food preparation, cooking or storage.

The outcome of the study was nothing less than depressing:  urinary concentrations for phthalates were 100 times higher than what is typically found in the majority of the general population.  Even more unsettling, the children – who are most vulnerable to the effects of toxic chemicals – had extremely elevated concentrations in their urine.

The researchers followed up by testing the phthalate concentrations in the individual food ingredients that were used in the catered diets:  dairy products, like butter, cream, milk and cheese, had concentrations above 440 nanograms/gram, while seasonings like cinnamon and cayenne pepper had concentrations ranging from 700 ng/g to an extreme high of 21,400 ng/g in ground coriander.

As you know, phthalates are endocrine disruptors, capable of mimicking the body’s natural hormones and thus wreaking havoc on our health. Excess phthalate chemicals have been shown to cause reproductive and neurological damage.

How Did the Food Get Contaminated with Phthalates?

I can almost understand the contamination in seasonings, but how in the world does cow’s milk end up with phthalates in it?  I did some research and found a study published in January of this year that shed some light on the subject:

This survey determined the levels of eight phthalates in several Belgian milk and dairy products. Samples were obtained from various farms, a dairy factory and from different shops in order to investigate phthalate contamination “from farm to fork”. At several stages in the milk chain, product contamination with phthalates was observed. At farm level, the mechanical milking process and the intake of phthalate containing feed by the cattle were found to be possible contamination sources. At industry and retail level, contact materials including packaging materials were additional contamination sources for phthalates in milk and dairy products.

Wow.  I’m blown away.

And I obviously have more research to do…

  • What specific mechanical milking pieces would contribute phthalates to the milk?
  • Does the pasteurization process increase the heat enough to cause more leaching from the container holding the milk at that time?
  • Which specific retail milk containers are too blame?
  • Can we lower our risk of exposure by  choosing raw milk stored in glass?

This reminds me of the interview I did with Carla Bartolucci, founder of Bionaturae.  She explained that even when you purchase tomato products packaged in glass with BPA-free lids, you still haven’t addressed the contamination that occurs during the processing phases.  Her company monitors the entire process from start to finish to safeguard against contaminants.  But what about all the other tomato products out there?

Tips for Reducing Your Exposure

Don’t lose heart.  Eating naked is still the best way to protect your family from being bombarded with hormone-mimicking chemicals.  Beyond making these changes, I guess we’ll have to start pushing for further studies to validate these findings in milk and seasonings so we can find safer brands who are serious about providing uncontaminated products.

  • Avoid canned foods, and choose fresh, organic produce when possible.  If you must use canned food periodically, choose products packaged in glass or specifically labeled as BPA-free (see our Guide)
  • Cook at home with fresh foods as often as possible and when you do eat out, bring your own BPA and phthalate-free containers and skip the polystyrene/Styrofoam containers
  • Make simple changes to your food storage containers by choosing glass, stainless steel or product confirmed free of BPA, PVC and Phthalates (see our Guide)
  • Do not microwave your plastic dishes (see our Tips)
  • Place plastic dishes (even BPA-free ones) on the top rack of the dishwasher and skip commercial sterilizers (see our Tips)
  • Skip PVC food wrap often found on commercially prepared foods, such as meat and cheese blocks (see our Tips)
  • Educate yourself about what plastics are what, and then begin contacting manufacturers to confirm the info for yourself with our FREE Guide on How Do Your Own Research

photo credit: madlyinlovewithlife via photopin cc

  • Sara

    We’re just starting to get the plastic away from my kids – the sippys, bowls, etc. I bought all BPA free thinking that we were safe, but now I think maybe not. We have several Melamine plates – are those harmful as well? I’ll tell you what, I’m getting exhausted from trying to keep my family safe. There are SO many things to worry about. It’s dizzying. 

    • Dawn

       I hear ya, Sara!  We just started about a month ago going organic, GMO-free and weening off meat and the more I learn, the more I wonder if it’s even possible any more to BE safe.  Ugh.

  • OrganicBabyUniversity

    Melamine is not safe and 70% of BPA free plastics were still shown to leach endocrine disrupting chemicals. Still with glass. As far as the above study, it neglects all the personal care products and other avenues for exposure. I would have liked to have seen controls for these and there are HIGH levels of exposure here. But very concerning.

    • MMF

      You make a very good point about other exposures. Regarding dairy, it is absolutely possible to reduce your consumption of that altogether. I recently watched Forks Over Knives, and was stunned by the research on casein (the protein in dairy, I think?) and its effects on cancer cell growth. And it seems that it doesn’t matter if the dairy is organic or not.

  • JD

    This is seriously depressing.  Been organic with my babies since they were born – no meat – but heavy on the dairy. No cans either – but do use a lot of seasonings (organic too).  Thought I had a handle on things…guess not.  It can make you go a little crazy thinking about all the things leaching into the environment – at least with the food I felt like I had a smidgen of control…no longer.  What to do now?

  • Tiffany

    As if our food wasn’t scary enough! Well, I have been meaning to start making my own rubs and seasoning.

  • Vee1976

    So I eat cinnamon daily and has for years. Any idea why it received so high levels? Are their different brands etc?

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