Detection of DEHP in beverages sold in Canada using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry
Phthalates are a class of plasticizing chemicals used to improve the flexibility of soft plastics (1, 6, 12, 15). As such, they have drawn increased attention as food contact substances (1, 10, 14), mostly entering food items from packaging materials (1, 8, 10, 14). Even though they had been approved as indirect food additives in Europe and the U.S. (1), the discovery of high concentrations of di(2-ethyl-hexyl) phthalate (DEHP), also known as bis 2-ethylhexyl phthalate (BEHP) (12, 15), in a probiotic food product by a scientist from Taiwan in April 2011 initiated the world’s greatest health safety efforts (7). Investigators found that DEHP, along with other phthalates, were deliberately added to food products in replacement of the approved food additives, which would normally be added to emulsify the components in the drinks to achieve a natural and appealing appearance (7, 12, 15). This contamination event has been known as the 2011 Taiwan Food Scandal, where processed food items such as sports drinks, concentrated juice beverages, tea drinks, jam or jelly and food supplements were adulterated with phthalates, a harmful class of chemical compounds. Consequently, ingestion of these harmful compounds may result in adverse health affects such as endocrine disruption, malformation of reproductive organs, infertility and abnormal neurodevelopment (12). Many products made it across the border to 22 different countries (15, 17) including Canada and U.S. (17). Since then, the Taiwanese government made improvements to the food industry regulations (15, 17). This study was aimed to determine if DEHP was present, and compared to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) DEHP tolerable daily intake (TDI) of 0.05 mg/kg body weight (bw)/day (12, 17), in 30 different drinks of imported and domestic brands sold in Canada. For comparison purposes, the author completed calculations based on the average adult (over 18 years old) body weight of 70 kg, according to EFSA (41). Using liquid/liquid extraction followed by Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS), 30 beverages were tested and analyzed for the presence of DEHP. Low concentrations of DEHP was detected in 3 of the beverages and none in the other 27 beverages tested on a calibrated instrument. The concentrations detected for the 3 beverages were lower than the TDI for a 70 kg body weight. Control samples were used to ensure method validity.