A preservative used in a wide range of foods and a coating on food packaging products can harm the immune system and reduce the antibody response to vaccines.
Tertiary Butylhydroquinone (TBHQ), also known as E319 in Europe, is an approved additive used to increase the shelf-life of processed foods.
It is used in cooking oils, processed or frozen meats, bakery products, crackers and more specifically popular brands like Rice Krispies Treats, Cheez-Its, Pop-Tarts and many more.
PFAS also called “forever chemicals” — used as coatings on food packaging (food wrappers, plastic packaging, bags, and boxes) –can leak into food and drink.
A study assessed the toxicity and health hazards of TBHQ and PFAS in humans and animals.
Their review shows that BHQ and PFAS can impair the immune system.
Given the coronavirus pandemic, this finding is particularly worrying.
Dr Olga Naidenko, the study’s first author, said:
“The pandemic has focused public and scientific attention on environmental factors that can impact the immune system.
Before the pandemic, chemicals that may harm the immune system’s defense against infection or cancer did not receive sufficient attention from public health agencies.
To protect public health, this must change.”
Past studies have suggested that TBHQ activity hinders the production of immune cell proteins, reduces the efficacy of flu vaccines, and increases the risk of food allergies.
PFAS levels can damage immune function, resulting in lower disease resistance or higher risk of infections.
High levels of PFAS have been linked to asthma and food allergies in teenagers.
Another study also found an association between elevated blood levels of PFBA and increased risk of COVID-19 severity (Grandjean et al., 2020).
Many additives in processed foods can increase the risk of hormonal imbalance, cancer, and damage to the nervous system.
However, the food additives regulation set by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ignores the latest research showing the negative impacts of additives on human health.
The FDA often lets food manufacturers decide what chemicals are safe and legal to use in food packaging.
Professor Scott Faber, EWG’s senior vice president for government affairs, said:
“Food manufacturers have no incentive to change their formulas.
Too often, the FDA allows the food and chemical industry to determine which ingredients are safe for consumption.
Our research shows how important it is that the FDA take a second look at these ingredients and test all food chemicals for safety.”
Foods and drinks can be produced without any of these harmful ingredients and there should be a safer approach towards food packaging.
For now, the EWG’s Food Scores database might be a useful tool for many shoppers to chose healthier products.
The study was published in International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (Naidenko et al., 2021).