This Ingredient in More Than 1,250 Foods May Not Be Safe, New Study Says

Allie Hogan
·3 min read

We all know processed foods probably aren't the best thing for us to eat, and that's in large part, due to the preservatives that keep them shelf-stable. But a new study from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has found that one preservative in particular might be harming your immune system. And the bad news is, the preservative in question is in almost 1,250 beloved snack foods, from Cheez-Its to Reese's Peanut Butter Cups to Coffemate. To see what preservative you should be looking out for on your favorite food's ingredients' list, read on, and to learn about another product you should be careful around, check out If You Have This Bottled Water at Home, Stop Drinking It Now, FDA Says.

TBHQ can harm your immune system.

The new study, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, used data from the Environmental Protection Agency's Toxicity Forecaster (ToxCast) to assess the effects of the preservative tert-butylhydroquinone (TBHQ).

TBHQ, which is used to increase a product's shelf life, is common in processed foods, including Pop-Tarts, Rice Krispies Treats, Cheez-Its, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, Nissin Top Ramen Noodle Soup, Coffemate Liquid Creamer, and Dove Heart Chocolates, according to the researchers.

They specifically set out to document TBHQ's influence on immune functions, including T-cells, B-cells, and NK cells, which can, in turn, affect your immune response.

To make sure you don't have another potentially dangerous product in your pantry, check out If You Have This Quaker Oats Product at Home, Get Rid of It Now, FDA Says.

This finding is even more concerning during the COVID pandemic.

The study authors noted that these findings are of particular concern at a time when we rely on our immune responses as we continue to combat the COVID pandemic.

"The pandemic has focused public and scientific attention on environmental factors that can impact the immune system," lead author Olga Naidenko, PhD, EWG vice president for science investigations, said in the statement. "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 see what medication can help you when it comes to COVID, check out This OTC Medicine May Keep You Safer From COVID, New Study Says.

Other potential effects of TBHQ have been noted before.

This study is not the first to question TBHQ. An April 2019 study out of Michigan State University found that the preservative might influence how well flu vaccines work, which is particularly timely as millions of Americans receive the COVID vaccine.

And another Michigan State University study from July 2016 found that TBHQ could also be linked to a rise in food allergies.

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There are two other preservatives in particular to look out for.

To avoid this potentially harmful preservative, Healthline suggests that you read labels carefully and skip anything that includes TBHQ, tertiary butylhydroquinone, or butylated hydroxyanisol in its ingredient list. It's worth noting that sometimes while the additive isn't present in food, it could be used in the packaging, in which case, it could migrate to your food.

"TBHQ, like many questionable food preservatives, is found in processed foods meant to withstand a long shelf life," said Healthline. "Avoiding these packaged foods and opting for fresh ingredients is a surefire way to limit it in your diet."

To make sure you don't eat another potentially risky treat, check out If You Have This Snack at Home, Get Rid of it Now, FDA Says.