Last week, I shared a picture of a popular snack that contains a very controversial preservative and it went absolutely viral. People (like you and me and so many others) care about what’s in their food and it’s a beautiful thing to see so many people sharing this information with those they love on social media. In fact, when a member of my team alerted me about this, I screamed “REVOLUTION!” so loud the house shook. This is a revolution and it can’t be stopped. We are sick of all the untested, controversial and shady chemicals the food industry invents to improve their bottom line. Wouldn’t it be great if they used their fancy chemistry to actually improve our health, instead? Or how about addressing the sudden rise of major food allergies? Which brings me to my point, have you seen the stats on food allergies lately?
- 1 in every 13 children have food allergies in the U.S.
- Food allergies in children increased approximately 50% between 1997 and 2011. (Yes, 50%!)
- Every 3 minutes, a food allergy reaction sends someone to the emergency room.
Something needs to be done to figure out what’s going on and I really feel for the parents who live in constant fear that their child will come in contact with something they are allergic to. I know from my own experience with family members who have life-threatening food allergies – it’s one of the scariest things you have to deal with. That’s why I’m really hopeful about some breaking new research coming out of Michigan State University that might finally get to the bottom of what could be triggering some of these serious food allergies.
Cheryl Rockwell, an assistant professor of pharmacology and toxicology at Michigan State University, uncovered during 9 years of research that the common food additive TBHQ (tert-butylhydroquinone) causes abnormal reactions in the immune system that trigger food allergies. She explains that TBHQ negatively affects “T-cells” in the body (which are generally used to fight infections) in a way that promotes allergies to tree nuts, milk, eggs, wheat and shellfish.
“Because humans are exposed to tBHQ through ingestion of food, the development of food allergies may be of particular concern. Notably, there has been an increase in reports of food allergy that seems to correlate with the increased use of tBHQ and other phenolic antioxidants as food preservatives.” ~ Cheryl Rockwell, PhD, The Journal of Immunology
Dr. Rockwell just received a large grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences to continue her research on TBHQ and its relation to human food allergies. While I highly doubt one single food additive is the cause of all food allergies, this is a move in the right direction. Ingredients are dumped into our food with zero independent or regulatory oversight – some of which trigger very serious allergic reactions and can have other negative effects on our health.
What is TBHQ?
One of my first big restaurant investigations was Chick-Fil-A, in which I found that they used the preservative TBHQ not once – but twice – in their chicken sandwiches as it was in both the chicken and the bun. This sandwich was one of my favorite foods to eat when I was younger, so this really hit home!
You can’t get much more toxic than TBHQ. This synthetic preservative is a form of butane and has been linked to vision disturbances, liver enlargement, childhood behavioral problems, and stomach cancer in animal studies. It’s also banned for use in food in other countries including Japan, and is on the Center For Science in The Public Interest’s list as one of the worst food additives to be avoided.
Even though TBHQ is technically an “antioxidant” which makes it sound healthy – it’s synthetically created in a lab. Other synthetic antioxidants include BHT and BHA, which the Environmental Working Group says should not be in our food.
Journalist Michael Pollan first alerted the masses to this ingredient 10 years ago in his bestselling book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma:
“But perhaps the most alarming ingredient in a Chicken McNugget is tertiary butylhydroquinone, or TBHQ, , an antioxidant derived from petroleum that is either sprayed directly on the nugget or the inside of the box it comes in to “help preserve freshness.” According to A Consumer’s Dictionary of Food Additives, TBHQ is a form of butane (i.e. lighter fluid) the FDA allows processors to use sparingly in our food: It can comprise no more than 0.02 percent of the oil in a nugget. Which is probably just as well, considering that ingesting a single gram of TBHQ can cause “nausea, vomiting, ringing in the ears, delirium, a sense of suffocation, and collapse.” Ingesting five grams of TBHQ can kill.” ~ Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, 2006
McDonald’s has since removed the TBHQ. Despite the dangers, the FDA has allowed TBHQ in our food since 1972 and since then it has become so common that you can barely walk down a single aisle in the supermarket without running into products with it left and right.
When the World Health Organization evaluated the intake of TBHQ in the U.S., they found that people who regularly eat high fat foods are consuming 180% of the “acceptable daily intake”. In other words… WAY too much!
Soon after I consulted Chick-Fil-A in 2012 and raised concerns about the TBHQ, they began testing peanut oil without it in multiple markets – and finally ditched it completely in 2015. They also didn’t replace it with some other toxic chemical, they just took it out. You’ve got to ask yourself, is this ingredient really necessary?
Beware: Avoiding TBHQ isn’t easy because it’s not always listed on the label.
Food companies are allowed to determine whether or not they will put TBHQ on the label, based on a little loophole in our food labeling regulations. If they decide that TBHQ meets the labeling definition of an “incidental additive” then they can just leave it off the ingredient list. Additives are considered incidental if they don’t serve a function in the finished product and are used in insignificant levels (the FDA doesn’t define what “insignificant” means, so that’s anyone’s guess).
In other words, if TBHQ is used to preserve oil that is an ingredient in cookies, but the amount is considered insignificant and is not preserving the final product (the cookies), it doesn’t need to be listed on the cookie label. Since TBHQ is often used to preserve fats and oils it can be exempt from mandatory labeling as an incidental ingredient in products like crackers, tortillas, and chips.
The same goes for when TBHQ is used to preserve flavor ingredients – the food company decides if it is preserving the finished product (requiring a label) or not.
As a precaution, many companies do list TBHQ on the label though, so keep your eyes peeled! My team recently scoured the grocery store shelves and found it in dozens of really popular products – many of them targeting children.
Popular Food Brands Guilty Of Using TBHQ:
- Snacks: Keebler crackers, Cheez-it, Town House crackers, Special K Popcorn Chips and Cracker Chips
- Cookies: Keebler, Grandma’s
- Frozen battered fish: Van de Kamps
- Microwave popcorn (select flavors): Smart Balance, ACT II, Jiffy Pop, Jolly Time, Orville Redenbacher’s, Pop Secret
- Chocolates: Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Butterfinger, Snickers (peanut butter flavor), Ghirardelli Squares
- Breakfast foods: Pop Tarts, Special K Pastry Crisps, Pillsbury Toaster Scrambles & Toaster Strudels
- Prepared dough: Pillsbury Grands Biscuits (some varieties) and Crescent Rolls, Pillsbury/Cinnabon Cinnamon Rolls
- Frozen foods: Totino’s Pizza Rolls & Pizzas, Tyson Anytizers Boneless Chicken Wings, Hungry Man
- Noodles: Maruchan Raman Noodle Soup and Instant Lunch, Nissin Chow Mein Noodles
- Taco Shells: Old El Paso Hard Taco Shells
- Salad dressing: Hidden Valley Ranch (Fat-free)
- Fast food restaurants: KFC, Arby’s, Hardee’s, Carl’s Jr., Dominos, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell Doritos Locos Tacos, and Jack In The Box (per 2013 ingredient list)
This is the picture that went viral on Facebook last week, it has been viewed by over 12 million people and shared over 140,000 times! How many kids around the country are eating Cheez-Its!?
This clearly struck a cord with so many people and drew in a lot of attention! Cheez-It took notice and responded that they are working on natural alternatives to TBHQ – but how many more people have to continue to consume TBHQ before they change it?
The Industry Is Already Working To Squash This Viral Story
After the Cheez-it post went viral, Snopes took it on to debunk it and wrote that I’m “discredited” citing an article from Food Business News (an industry funded site). My first thought was, huh… why do they think TBHQ is safe to eat? They defend the use of TBHQ and laughingly state that the FDA considers TBHQ a safe food additive… yet the FDA has not been keeping proper watch over our food for decades and they really aren’t doing enough to protect our safety. Why doesn’t Snopes do some real investigating and look deeper?
Do their sources have a conflict of interest? Who pays for Snopes’ advertising? Why do they continually defend the chemical industry and try to derail health activism? As far as I know, the married couple that runs Snopes are not scientists either – and they are just expressing their opinion.
Opinion taken, but I don’t agree!
The bottom line is that artificial food additives have no nutritional value and present some real risks to our health that are still being studied. Does anyone want to eat risky additives like TBHQ, especially since it’s not necessary? Why subject yourself and your children to that risk?
Food Industry front group hired to defend this chemical
“TBHQ” has been in the news recently. This food additive got our attention when a member of the Best Food Facts team who has young children saw a post on social media. He asked, “What is TBHQ and is it dangerous?”…TBHQ is new to most of us, but it has been used in common foods for decades and helps preserve the quality, safety and nutritional values of many foods we safely enjoy.” – BestFoodFacts.com, September 2016
“When issues arise, teams are activated to determine how to engage. For example, when Subway responded to pressure from the blogger known as Food Babe and announced it would stop using azodicarbonamide in its bread, an Issues Advisory Team acted quickly to add unbiased, fact-based information to the conversation.” – Center For Food Integrity newsletter, August 2014
Best Food Facts website is run by the food industry – they are not to be trusted.
The easiest way to avoid TBHQ: Stop eating food that is designed to last for weeks or months.
When you eat fresh foods without additives, you will avoid the toxic concoctions that the chemical industry has created to increase industry profits at the expense of our health. Think about this… the preservatives, colors, flavors, thickeners, and emulsifiers found in heavily processed foods have not been shown to offer a single benefit to human health – so why eat them?
Synthetic food additives also are not subject to independent 3rd party testing before they are added to our food – the food and chemical companies are allowed to determine the safety for new additives and the FDA isn’t even aware that some of them exist! The system is so broken it’s almost hard to believe.
Consumer activism has been enormously successful and despite this broken system, we are creating a safer food supply!
If you want TBHQ removed from our food, please SHARE this post and ask brands to remove it from their products!
Here are the links to the Facebook pages of these brands:
The major TBHQ offenders are Kellogg’s (Cheez-It, Keebler, Pillsbury, Pop Tarts, Mother’s) and General Mills (Totino’s), Van De Kamps, KFC, Arby’s, Hardee’s, Carl’s Jr., Pizza Hut, Dominos, and some of the microwave popcorn made by Smart Balance, ACT II, Jiffy Pop, Jolly Time, Orville Redenbacher’s, Pop Secret.
Make sure to contact these companies directly and ask them to remove TBHQ – via email, Facebook, and Twitter – this has shown to be the most effective way to create change.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has”. – Margaret Mead
I can’t leave without mentioning that this work comes with a lot of resistance and you may be verbally attacked for sharing this message online. Here is what to do if that happens!
I love every single one of you who stands up with me in this fight for safer food. You are truly incredible and a force to be reckoned with!
P.S. If you haven’t joined the Food Babe Army and subscribed to my free email newsletter yet, please do so here! I send my list cutting edge health information, investigations like this one and so much more.