Response to stories about increased levels of phthalates linked to eating out

A recent US study claiming that eating out may lead to increased levels of phthalates has been extensively featured in publications all over the world. We believe it is crucial to explain that:


  • First of all, the study only concludes that people who eat out more regularly showed an association, and not a causal link, with higher phthalate concentrations than those who eat out less regularly. This was merely based on self-assessment, which is highly subjective and prone to error. In addition, the study fails to address whether exposure levels are harmful or not.


  • It is important to highlight that the study is conducted in the US where food legislation, chemicals legislation, reference values for exposure evaluation and even dietary behaviours are very different from European standards.


  • All the cumulative intake levels in the population groups being analysed in the US study are well below the European tolerable daily intakes (TDI) and the safe reference dose levels in the US for any of the individual substances being measured. This means that the exposure levels illustrated in the study do not pose any risk.


  • Moreover, contrary to what is implied in many media articles, only some low molecular weight phthalates have been assessed as endocrine disruptors and for this reason, they are strictly regulated in Europe in order to ensure their safe use. Phthalates are a very diverse group of substances with many different characteristics, uses and effects. More precision is always necessary.


  • Phthalates are not used as ingredients in food, but some of them are allowed in certain food contact applications, with well-defined intake limits, according to EU regulation. If these well defined limits are observed then the potential exposure levels are safe. What’s more, there are a number of phthalates that are not classified for any effect and can be safely used in many applications.