Ortho-phthalates (phthalates) are a class of chemicals commonly found in many types of food — from fast food to fresh fruits and vegetables. The chemicals get into food mainly through packaging and food handling equipment, like cellophane, paper and paperboard, and plastic in contact with food. While used in many consumer products, prescription drugs and medical devices, food is a major source of exposure to phthalates.

Recommendations for testing for phthalates in food

Why phthalates in food are a concern

Scientific evidence has linked phthalates to many reproductive, developmental and endocrine-related health problems. Exposure is of particular concern for pregnant women and young children due to phthalates’ demonstrated harm to normal development. Every chemical in the class that has been studied for health effects has been found to pose a health risk. However, with nearly half of the FDA-approved chemicals in the phthalate class lacking any published safety data, the full extent of the threat remains unclear.

What's happening to reduce phthalates?

FDA has agreed to reconsider the safety of phthalates after EDF and nine other NGOs submitted a food additive petition in April 2016. The advocates requested that the agency revoke its approval of the use of ortho-phthalates in food packaging and handling equipment. The agency had an obligation under the law to make a final decision by September 2018.

In July 2018, FDA agreed to consider a petition by the Flexible Vinyl Alliance, an industry group, to revoke the agency’s approval of most uses of the phthalates because they were abandoned. If FDA accepts the industry petition, as many as nine phthalates would remain approved for use.


Read more on the EDF Health blog