In our 2017 study of the toxic chemicals ortho-phthalates in food, we found phthalates in dairy products such as cheese powder for boxed mac n’ cheese. This led us to the question: how are phthalates contaminating our food? We know that phthalates are a plasticizer or an additive that softens plastic and commonly used in PVC or vinyl products. This prompted us to undertake the largest study of its kind on vinyl food-handling gloves: Taking off the Toxic Gloves: An Investigation of Phthalates and Other Chemicals of Concern in Food-Handling Gloves.
We tested 101 PVC gloves for phthalates including 60 from distributors that supply restaurants around the nation and 41 from restaurants in 14 states. Of these, 14% or 1 in 7 contain phthalates. We found that the same brand of glove does not always mean it is phthalate-free-- some samples of the same brand had it, others didn’t.
Over two-thirds of restaurants use vinyl gloves, which means that any of them could potentially get a box of gloves that happened to contain phthalates. Gloves that do not contain phthalates contain DOTP, another plasticizer, which is generally viewed as safer– however, there have not been enough studies to say for certain that DOTP is a safer chemical. No matter what the gloves include as a plasticizer, the glove contains almost a third plasticizer by weight, and alarmingly, these chemicals are not bound to the glove and can be released into the food.
The American Academy of Pediatrics released a policy statement in 2018 calling for U.S. government action to keep these chemicals out of food, and Europe, Japan, and the state of Maine have all banned or restricted phthalates from food contact materials, including food service gloves.
Phthalates exposure in early life is linked to genital malformations in baby boys, ADHD in children, and infertility later in life. These dangerous chemicals don’t belong in our food.
Some restaurant chains are moving away from vinyl gloves, including Subway, Starbucks, Panera Bread, and Chipotle Mexican Grill. We would like to see more restaurant chains take off the toxic gloves and use polyethylene or bare hands-- washed, of course.
To start, we are calling on McDonald’s to make the switch to non-toxic gloves. In our study, we found at least one Michigan based McDonald's using gloves containing toxic phthalates. Although, it’s not all the locations all the time, it’s enough to cause concern.
Food is most Americans’ primary route of exposure to phthalates, and research has found that dining out and eating fast food is associated with higher phthalate levels in people's bodies.
Urge McDonald’s to be a market leader and replace toxic vinyl gloves with safer alternatives!