McDonald’s chicken McNuggets served in the U.S. contain tertiary butylhydroquinone (TBHQ), a petroleum-based product, and dimethylpolysiloxane, an anti-foaming agent also used in Silly Putty. Because TBHQ does not cause discoloration or change flavor or odor of the material to which it is added, the chemical is used to help the chicken and other ingredients in McDonald’s McNuggets maintain their shape after being placed into nugget-shaped molds. TBHQ is a preservative for vegetable oils and animal fats, supposedly limited to .02 percent of the oil in the nugget. But according to “A Consumer’s Dictionary of Food Additives, ”One gram can cause nausea, vomiting, ringing in the ears, delirium, a sense of suffocation, and collapse.” TBHQ is also added to varnishes, lacquers, resins, and oil field additives, and used industrially and in cosmetics to lower the evaporation rate and improve stability.
Dimethylpolysiloxane is a form of silicone used to prevent oil from foaming; it’s also used in cosmetics and Silly Putty. Marion Nestle, a New York University professor and author of “What to Eat,” says the tertiary butylhydroquinone and dimethylpolysiloxane in the McNuggets probably pose no health risks. As a general rule, though, she advises not eating any food with an ingredient you can’t pronounce. Marion Nestle’s cavalier dismissal of the dangers in these chemicals — “probably pose no health risks” — is rather alarming for an author and university professor. In high doses, TBHQ has had serious negative health effects on lab animals, such as harbingers to stomach tumors and DNA damage. A number of studies have shown that prolonged exposure to high doses of TBHQ may cause cancer. [See here and here].
There seems to be a total disconnect in acknowledging the dangers of prolonged exposure — even to low doses — of toxic chemicals and cancer rates, or other deadly health issues. At one time there was apparently even more toxic chemicals in McDonald’s chicken McNuggets, because in 2003, according to CNN, McDonald’s launched smaller, all-white-meat McNuggets after a federal judge dubbed the food “a McFrankenstein creation of various elements not utilized by the home cook.” Among the ingredients that remained in the new McNuggets are tBHQ and dimethylpolysiloxane. “I would certainly choose the British nuggets over the American” says Ruth Winter, author of “A Consumer’s Dictionary of Food Additives. The U.S. McNuggets not only contain more calories and fat than UK McNuggets, but also the toxic chemicals we mentioned. “You would find that if you looked at any of our core food items. You’d see little, regional differences,” says Lisa McComb, who handles global media relations for McDonald’s. After telling CNN there are “little regional differences”, you can’t help but chuckle when McComb goes on to tell CNN that the chemical dimethylpolysiloxane is used in US McNuggets but not in UK McNuggets as “a matter of safety to keep the oil from foaming.”