Silicone, Silly Putty, and uh Sodexo?
“I’ll take an order of silly putty with a side of silicone eye contacts,” said no one ever. But that’s never stopped the fast food restaurant industry or even Sodexo.
Dimethylpolysiloxane, better known as “Phase,” is a silicone-based polymer that is found in products such as silly putty, cosmetics, lubricants, breast implants and eye contacts. Phase is FDA approved and most fast-food companies including ORU’s very own Hamill Dining Hall have taken full advantage.
The intended purpose of Phase is to be used as an antifoaming agent during the process of preparing foods such as French fries, scrambled eggs, fried chicken and soft drinks like Diet Coke. It often substitutes for butter or olive oil while also preventing the hot cooking oil from foaming or spilling over.
Phase allows for a long shelf life, which makes serving to larger groups of people a little bit easier. The chemical will decompose eventually; it’s likely none of Sodexo’s current guests will live to see it.
Is it safe?
Bob Canada, ORU Assistant Professor of Health, Leisure and Sport Sciences, doesn’t seem to think so.
“I know that it is one of the silicones that I don’t want in my body,” said Canada. “There are so many additives the FDA has approved that aren’t good for you.”
Remember that repulsing smell that came from the formaldehyde chemical used to preserve the dead rats you dissected in biology class? A significant amount of that same chemical is often released when dimethylpolysiloxane reaches 300 degrees fahrenheit in the cooking process. It is important to note, 300 degrees is 75 degrees less than the temperature french fries are fried at.
Formaldehyde is highly toxic and linked to allergies, brain damage, cancer and autoimmune disorders. Associate Professor of Health, Leisure and Sport Sciences at ORU Bill Gordon, expressed that formaldehyde was one of his main concerns with dimethylpolysiloxane.
“Any potential health risks would probably be ascertained by the cumulative amounts ingested over an extensive period of time, but that is solely my conjecture,” said Gordon.
In recent years, the plastic surgery industry has begun to cut down on the use of dimethylpolysiloxane due to the serious health concerns presented in over 50% of patients. However, the fast-food industry shows no signs of stopping its use.
“The choices we make when cooking here at ORU have more to do with flavor profiles than with health benefits–all things being equal with the products at our disposal,” said ORU Sodexo’s Director of Operations Randy Page. “For instance, olive oil is widely known to have a great number of health benefits, but most of those benefits go out the window when it is heated to the temperatures that most cooking takes place at.”
Studies on this product do not show that it has been proven to have any negative effects on health. The FDA considers the use of dimethylpolysiloxane to be safe as long as it does not exceed “10 parts per million.”
How do I know it’s actually in my food?
Check the frying stations at saga for a bottle labeled “Phase,” or ask a Sodexo worker what oils are being used to cook the food. Sodexo openly uses “phase” as an antifoaming agent while deep-frying foods and as a means of adding butter flavor.
“While we do use it [Phase] sometimes, it is not something that we have used consistently, and we are not necessarily committed to keeping it on-hand,” said Page. “We are very sensitive to the needs of our very diverse customer base, and we are always committed to a policy of transparency in everything we do. We are also always willing to make reasonable accommodations wherever possible to meet those diverse needs.”
Dimethylopolyoxane is listed as an ingredient on the McDonald’s website, who uses this chemical to prepare their fried foods. It is also commonly listed in the ingredient section of Sprite beverages.
Having been made aware of the health concerns, Saga has stopped using dimethylpolysiloxane.