Hey Dallas: We Thought You Should Know That There's Flame Retardant in Your Food

In case the threat of diabetes, heart disease, morbid obesity and an early (and very large) grave isn't enough to make you eat healthier, maybe this will help: Fatty foods are also high in flame retardants.

A research team led by Dr. Arnold Schecter of the University of Texas School of Public Health collected 36 samples of beef, poultry, fish, butter and peanut butter from Dallas supermarkets, much like the one you shop at, in 2010 and tested for hexabromocyclododecane, a chemical known to be harmful to spellcheck.

HBCD -- ah, that's better -- is used to keep things like sofas, mattresses and electronic devices from bursting into flames, which is generally good. But it has the unfortunate side effect of disrupting human immune, endocrine and reproductive systems and acting as a neurotoxin, which is generally less good.

"We found that, not the majority, but a sizable minority were contaminated, and we noticed that some of the fatty fish -- for example herring and salmon -- were particularly high in these brominated flame retardants," Schecter told Unfair Park.

Fish tend to absorb HBCD when they feed at the bottom of water bodies, where the chemicals tend to accumulate, or from being fed fish oil and meal on fish farms, because, Schecter said, fish apparently prefer cannibalism to eating soy and corn products.

Peanut butter was more of a mystery.

"We don't have a good explanation for that. Perhaps dirt got on the peanuts? But I don't really know," Schecter said.

The good news is that the levels detected by Schecter and his team fall below government safety standards. The bad news is that there's flame retardant in our food, our bodies and our breast milk. There are other potentially harmful chemicals like Bisphenol-A and dioxin, and government regulators are under-funded and haven't decided exactly how to keep these things out of our food.

So how does one avoid ingesting these chemicals? You probably can't, but buying lean meat, cutting fat off of salmon, and eating lots of fruits and vegetables, in which Schecter found no detectable amounts of flame retardants, may help. You're safest bet is probably just to stop eating and breathing altogether.

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Eric Nicholson
Contact: Eric Nicholson