- Tert-Butylhydroquinone (TBHQ) is a common food additive used to extend shelf life.
- It has been linked to an increase in food allergies because it causes the body to have an allergic reaction.
- Experts say the FDA needs to update the preservative guide based on new research.
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Pop-Tarts and Cheez-Its contain a food preservative that has the potential to damage your immune system by disrupting cellular proteins, according to a new study from the Environmental Working Group.
Like many processed snacks, they contain tert-butylhydroquinone (TBHQ), a common preservative used to extend shelf life.
In the study, published Wednesday in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, researchers found that TBHQ affected proteins in immune cells that can damage the immune system.
The researchers analyzed the chemical properties of various snacks and reviewed previous research to assess which ones were potentially toxic to the immune system. They found that TBHQ was present in some products, and animal and test tube studies suggest that it damages the immune system.
The study builds on previous research that found TBHQ to be harmful.
A study in mice found that TBHQ made flu vaccines less effective. Another study in mice found that the additive may be behind the increase in food allergies because it caused T cells to release a protein that triggers allergies to nuts, milk, eggs and shellfish. There are no human studies, although there have been reports of sight damage in people who used TBHQ.
The FDA must test for chemicals in food that can be harmful to the immune system.
The Food and Drug Administration takes a hands-off approach in regulating additives that can be harmful.
“Too often, the FDA allows the food and chemical industry to determine which ingredients are safe for consumption,” Scott Faber, EWG’s senior vice president of government affairs, said in a statement.
The last time the FDA approved additives was in 2002, and the organization does not update its guidance based on new toxicology studies. But the EWG said the FDA should review TBHQ as new science emerges.
Kellogg’s, the parent company of Cheez-Its and Pop-Tarts, did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.