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New report reveals concerning levels of contaminant found in products of several popular olive oil brands: 'It is awful'

"The olive oil manufacturers clearly must not understand how perilous small phthalate exposures … can be."

"The olive oil manufacturers clearly must not understand how perilous small phthalate exposures ... can be."

Photo Credit: iStock

Detectable levels of a harmful chemical have been found in 13 olive oil brands after a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-certified lab did testing. 

What's happening?

Environmental health nonprofit news outlet EHN.org and Mamavation, a site focused on nontoxic product recommendations, partnered to have popular olive oil brands tested. The tests found phthalate chemicals, which are used to make plastics like PVC and vinyl. They can also be found in cosmetics, lotions, deodorants, and toys. 

The tests showed phthalate levels ranging from 559 parts per billion to 6,092 parts per billion. Nine brands had more than 1,200 parts per billion, and three had more than 2,000 parts per billion. Filippo Berio Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil checked in at the lowest levels among the brands tested, with Mamavation publishing a full list.

"It is awful that food like olive oil that we consider healthy and promoting of longevity is widely contaminated with phthalates," said Terrence Collins, professor of green chemistry and director of the Institute for Green Sciences at Carnegie Mellon University. 

Collins added: "The olive oil manufacturers clearly must not understand how perilous small phthalate exposures, or small exposures of any endocrine-disrupting chemicals, can be."

Notably, ConsumerLab.com updated its own page on olive oil following these results and pointed out "there is no established limit on phthalates in food in the U.S." and that "none of the amounts [published by Mamavation] represent a significant health concern." While CL did not cast doubts on the findings, the outlet noted that the levels detected amount to "only 7.8 mcg [micrograms] to 85.3 mcg per tablespoon ... well below the European tolerable intake of 3,400 mcg for a 150 lb. person."

Why are phthalates in olive oil brands concerning?

Finding even trace amounts of phthalates is concerning because the chemical has been linked to numerous health issues such as cancers, brain and behavioral problems, hormone disruption, low birth rates, diabetes, and obesity.

A study done at New York University found that phthalates may have contributed to 10% of preterm births in 2018, equaling over 56,000. 

Phthalates can also cause similar issues in wildlife, including hormone disruption, and cause problems with reproduction and development, as the State of Washington's Department of Ecology observed.

According to data shared by EHN, phthalates have also been found in other foods, such as pizza, fast-food burgers, sliced peaches, protein milkshakes, canned salmon, yogurts, and even some organic foods — sometimes in high amounts. It's important to note that just because they have been found in some brands of olive oil, it does not mean olive oil is inherently less safe than other types of food; what it does mean is that there is cause for further research into the causes in the farming and supply-chain processes.

What's also alarming is that while some phthalates are restricted in children's products, the Food and Drug Administration allows them in foods as additives. Two petitions were rejected by the FDA in 2022 to remove 28 phthalates. 

What can I do to keep myself safe from phthalates? 

While there are numerous foods in which phthalates are found, there are still ways you can keep yourself and your family safe. You can avoid processed food because phthalates can seep into the food in manufacturing plants and through plastics. Also, be aware of eating food in plastic wraps or containers. The plastic can have phthalates in it and contaminate the food.

Eliminating fast food from your diet is a good option, too, since, as mentioned before, the chemical has been found in fast food burgers.

You can also take action by writing to the FDA or your representatives to demand reform. Eliminating phthalates in plastics and food will help to keep you and the environment safe.

Editor's note: This article has been updated to reflect additional analysis from ConsumerLabs.com that provides further context about the safety levels of the phthalates levels found.

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