vegetable oil bottle

Phthalates and other plasticizer chemicals in cooking oil, dairy, and infant formula

Published on December 14, 2023

The Ecology Center's Healthy Stuff Lab team, in collaboration with New York University and Defend Our Health, published a study of ortho-phthalates and other plasticizers in commonly consumed foods in the United States. We measured plasticizers in 34 vegetable oils, 10 milks, 18 infant formulas, and 9 cheese powders from macaroni kits using gas chromatography coupled with mass spectrometry (GC-MS). We analyzed plastic packaging composition using FTIR spectroscopy.

Cooking oils had the highest levels of plasticizers on average; milk had the lowest. Organic versus conventional foods did not show consistent differences execpt in the milk category, in which organic milks had slightly higher levels than conventional milks. Another interesting finding was that refined vegetable oils had significantly lower levels than unrefined (virgin, cold-pressed) oils. The oil refining process likely removes a variety of contaminants, including plasticizers.

Human exposure to plasticizers is a significant public health concern, but sources of such exposures are poorly characterized. The new study adds valuable information for estimating phthalate and other plasticizer exposures from foods. Several plasticizers were measured that have rarely been included in analyses of food contaminants (particularly DINCH, DINP, and DIDP). Our study suggests that the packaging of these products is not the primary source of plasticizer contamination. Contamination may occur further upstream in food processing from materials used in storage of ingredients, transportation, and process equipment. 

Link to the paper

Citation: Roopa Krithivasan, Gillian Zaharias Miller, Michael Belliveau, Jeff Gearhart, Vimalkumar Krishnamoorthi, Sunmi Lee & Kurunthachalam Kannan, Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology volume 33, pages 778–786 (2023).