On February 27, 2013 scientists from the University of Washington, Seattle published a peer-reviewed article in the Nature Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology (Sathyanarayana et al. 2013). In their dietary intervention, the study’s authors asked participating families to follow written expert recommendations aimed at reducing exposure to phthalates and bisphenol A (BPA) by choosing non-plastic food packaging. Another group was supplied with catered foods, which were freshly prepared using local, organic foods and not packaged in or prepared with plastic food contact materials. Study participants’ urine samples were collected before, during and after the dietary intervention.

No statistically significant differences were observed for body levels of phthalates or BPA in participants following the expert recommendations but shopping and cooking themselves.  In the group receiving catered fresh foods, both BPA and diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) levels were significantly and unexpectedly increased during the dietary intervention phase compared to levels before and after. The authors estimate that children participating in the study were exposed to DEHP 3 to 6 times above the safe level set by regulatory agencies in the US and EU. Following these findings some of the foods were analyzed for possible contamination by the study authors. Ground coriander seeds, milk and cream were identified as likely sources of elevated DEHP exposure. The actual source of DEHP contamination was not identified.

The study’s authors call for regulatory action, stating that “industry wide regulation aimed at reducing phthalate and BPA in foods” was the only effective mechanism to ensure the safety of the food supply system. This present study contradicts the findings of an earlier dietary intervention study where a 60% reduction in phthalate levels was found when participants only consumed freshly cooked, local and organic foods not packaged in plastic which were provided by a catering service (Rudel et al. 2011).


Sathyanarayana, S., et al. (2013). “Unexpected results in a randomized dietary trial to reduce phthalate and bisphenol A exposures.” Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology (published online February 27, 2013).

Rudel, R. A., et al. (2011). “Food Packaging and Bisphenol A and Bis(2-Ethyhexyl) Phthalate Exposure: Findings from a Dietary Intervention.” Environmental Health Perspectives 119(7): 914-920.

Read More

Phthalates. Background article by the Food Packaging Forum.

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