New peer-reviewed study by the Environmental Working Group shows that TBHQ, a preservative in Pop-Tarts, Rice Krispies Treats and hundreds of other foods, may damage the immune system.
A food preservative used to prolong the shelf life of Pop-Tarts, Rice Krispies Treats, Cheez-Its and almost 1,250 other popular processed foods may harm the immune system, according to a new peer-reviewed study by Environmental Working Group.
For the study, published March 24 in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, Environmental Working Group (EWG) researchers used data from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxicity Forecaster, or ToxCast, to assess the health hazards of the most common chemicals added to food, as well as the “forever chemicals” known as PFAS, which can migrate to food from packaging.
EWG’s analysis of ToxCast data showed that the preservative tert-butylhydroquinone, or TBHQ, has been found to harm the immune system both in animal tests and in non-animal tests known as high-throughput in vitro toxicology testing. This finding is of particular concern during the coronavirus pandemic.
“The pandemic has focused public and scientific attention on environmental factors that can impact the immune system,” said Olga Naidenko, Ph.D., EWG vice president for science investigations and lead author of the new study. “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.”
TBHQ is a preservative that is pervasive in processed foods. It has been used in foods for many decades and serves no function besides increasing a product’s shelf life. Using new non-animal test results from ToxCast, EWG found that TBHQ affected immune cell proteins at doses similar to those that cause harm in traditional studies. Earlier studies have found that TBHQ might influence how well flu vaccines work and may be linked to a rise in food allergies.
Using ToxCast, EWG analyzed all publicly available studies that show how PFAS migrate to food from packaging materials or processing equipment. This is the first known compilation of available research on PFAS migration from packaging to food.