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Popular Fast-Food Items Contain These Harmful Chemicals, New Study Finds

Researchers examined items from McDonald's, Taco Bell, and other major chains.

Reasons abound why fast food isn't the top health choice when it comes to your diet, but a new study is adding another negative characteristic to this pile of evidence: your favorite burgers, burritos, and fries are laden with harmful plastics.

A new study out of George Washington University examined the levels of industrial chemicals called phthalates in 64 common fast-food orders from McDonald's, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Domino's, Taco Bell, and Chipotle. And unfortunately for us consumers, they found high levels of these harmful chemicals in almost all the burgers, pizzas, fries, and burritos tested.

RELATED: The 10 Most Toxic Ingredients Lurking In Fast Food

The highest levels of phthalates, however, were found in items containing meat, like chicken burritos and cheeseburgers. Cheese pizzas and fries had the lowest levels of the chemicals.

Phthalates are usually found in things made of plastic—from rubber gloves to packaging materials. So how do they get into your food? There are many potential points of entry along the food supply chain, an industry expert told The Washington Post. During production, food will frequently come into contact with plastic packaging, safety gloves, conveyor belts, etc., and the particles can get transferred onto the food items. This is especially true for highly processed items that comprise your fast-food order.

While the CDC states that the effects of low levels of phthalates on human health still aren't clear, animal studies have shown the chemicals can be harmful to the reproductive system of mammals. A human study has shown that they act as endocrine disruptors and can have negative long-term effects on human health.

Some phthalates were banned from consumer items like toys, but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn't regulate the legal thresholds of these substances in food. However, the agency has said it would review the new study and take its findings into consideration.

"Although the FDA has high safety standards, as new scientific information becomes available, we reevaluate our safety assessments," an FDA spokesperson told The Post. "Where new information raises safety questions, the FDA may revoke food additive approvals, if the FDA is no longer able to conclude that there is a reasonable certainty of no harm from the authorized use."

None of the fast-food brands involved in the study have commented on the results.

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Mura Dominko
Mura is ETNT's Deputy News Editor, leading the coverage of America's favorite restaurant chains, grocery stores, and viral food moments. Read more about Mura