Commercial processed food may have endocrine-disrupting potential: soy-based ingredients making the difference

Food Addit Contam Part A Chem Anal Control Expo Risk Assess. 2013;30(10):1722-7. doi: 10.1080/19440049.2013.817025. Epub 2013 Jul 26.


Processed and packaged food items as well as ready-to-eat snacks are neglected and poorly characterised sources of human exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs). In this study we investigated the presence of xenoestrogens in commercially processed and packaged Finnish foods, arising from substances deliberately added or inadvertently contaminating the food, substances formed as a result of food processing, or substances leaching from food packaging materials. Samples were obtained in three separate batches of equivalent products from both a supermarket and a local representative of a global chain of hamburger restaurants and extracted by a solid-phase extraction method. Their endocrine-disrupting potential was determined by yeast bioluminescent assay, using two recombinant yeast strains Saccharomyces cerevisiae BMAEREluc/ERα and S. cerevisiae BMA64/luc. In this test system, the majority of samples (both foodstuffs and wrappers) analysed proved negative. However, all batches of industrially prepared hamburgers (but not those obtained from a hamburger restaurant) as well as pepper salami significantly induced luciferase activity in the BMAEREluc/ERα yeast strain indicating the presence of xenoestrogens, with estradiol equivalents of these products ranging from 0.2 to 443 pg g(-1). All three products contained soy-based ingredients, which apparently accounted for, or at least contributed to, their high estrogenic activity, since no signal in the assay was observed with extracts of the packaging material, while two different soy sauces tested yielded an intense signal (28 and 54 pg ml(-1) estradiol-equivalent). These findings imply that by and large chemicals arising in the processing or packaging of foodstuffs in Finland constitute an insignificant source of xenoestrogens to consumers. However, soy-derived ingredients in certain food items might render the entire products highly estrogenic. The estrogenic activity of soy is attributed to isoflavones whose health effects - though widely considered beneficial - are controversial. As hamburgers are a popular type of food among children, the findings are noteworthy and possibly of concern.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Endocrine Disruptors / adverse effects*
  • Endocrine Disruptors / analysis*
  • Estrogens, Non-Steroidal / adverse effects
  • Estrogens, Non-Steroidal / analysis
  • Finland
  • Food Contamination / analysis*
  • Food Handling
  • Humans
  • Meat / adverse effects
  • Meat / analysis
  • Soy Foods / adverse effects*
  • Soy Foods / analysis*


  • Endocrine Disruptors
  • Estrogens, Non-Steroidal