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Some Preservatives Used In Processed Foods May Negatively Affect Immune System

Preservatives are added to food to fight spoilage caused by bacteria, molds, fungus, and yeast. Preservatives can keep food fresher for longer periods of time, extending its shelf life. According to a new study, a food preservative called tert-butylhydroquinone (TBHQ) and chemicals used in food packaging may harm the immune system.

For their study, researchers from the Environmental Working Group used the Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxicity Forecaster to evaluate the health hazards associated with TBHQ and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). PFAS are man-made chemicals that may be used as grease-proofing agents in fast-food wrappers, microwave popcorn bags, take-out paperboard containers, and pet food bags.

The researchers found that TBHQ may affect immune cell proteins and immune response. They also found that 8 substances found in PFAS can migrate from food packaging to food. Previous research has suggested that PFAS suppress immune function and decrease the effectiveness of vaccines.

Not all processed foods contain TBHQ and not all processed food packaging contains PFAS. Food ingredient labels typically list TBHQ as an ingredient if it has been added. Some alternatives to food packaging that contain PFAS include a compostable plastic called polylactic acid (PLA), bamboo, and palm leaf.

The study was published online ahead of print on March 24, 2021 in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

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