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How to Avoid Phosphate Additives

The vast majority of chicken and poultry products are injected with phosphorus preservatives, which are often not listed in the ingredients. Reducing one’s intake of meat, junk food, fast food, and processed cheese may help lower intake until labeling is mandated.

November 15, 2013 |
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Supplementary Info

Sources Cited

Y. Shutto, M. Shimada, M. Kitajima, H. Yamabe, M. S. Razzaque. Lack of awareness among future medical professionals about the risk of consuming hidden phosphate-containing processed food and drinks. PLoS ONE 2011 6(12):e29105.

R. A. Sherman, O. Mehta. Dietary phosphorus restriction in dialysis patients: Potential impact of processed meat, poultry, and fish products as protein sources. Am. J. Kidney Dis. 2009 54(1):18 - 23.

M. A. M. Ai-Ashmawy. Prevalence and public health significance of aluminum residues in milk and some dairy products. J. Food Sci. 2011 76(3):T73 - T76.

N. W. Gunther. 4th. Effects of polyphosphate additives on Campylobacter survival in processed chicken exudates. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 2010 76(8):2419 - 2424.

N. W. Gunther 4th, Y. He, P. Fratamico. Effects of polyphosphate additives on the pH of processed chicken exudates and the survival of Campylobacter. J. Food Prot. 2011 74(10):1735 - 1740.

R. A. Sherman, O. Mehta. Phosphorus and potassium content of enhanced meat and poultry products: Implications for patients who receive dialysis. Clin J Am Soc Nephrol 2009 4(8):1370 - 1373.

E. Ritz, K. Hahn, M. Ketteler, M. K. Kuhlmann, J. Mann. Phosphate additives in food--a health risk. Dtsch Arztebl Int 2012 109(4):49 - 55.

O. Benini, C. D'Alessandro, D. Gianfaldoni, A. Cupisti. Extra-phosphate load from food additives in commonly eaten foods: A real and insidious danger for renal patients. J Ren Nutr 2011 21(4):303 - 308.

J. Uribarri. Phosphorus additives in food and their effect in dialysis patients. Clin J Am Soc Nephrol 2009 4(8):1290 - 1292.

J. B. León, C. M. Sullivan, A. R. Sehgal AR. The prevalence of phosphorus-containing food additives in top-selling foods in grocery stores. J Ren Nutr. 2013 23(4):265-270.

L. Murphy-Gutekunst, J. Uribarri. Hidden Phosphorus-Enhanced Meats: Part 3. J Ren Nutr. 2005 15(4):E1-E4.

C. M. Sullivan, J. B. Leon, A. R. Sehgal. Phosphorus-containing food additives and the accuracy of nutrient databases: Implications for renal patients. J Ren Nutr. 2007 17(5):350 - 354.

J. Uribarri, M. S. Calvo. Hidden sources of phosphorus in the typical American diet: Does it matter in nephrology? Semin Dial. 2003 16(3):186 - 188.

B. G. Lyon, D. P. Smith, E. M. Savage. Descriptive sensory analysis of broiler breast fillets marinated in phosphate, salt, and acid solutions. Poult. Sci. 2005 84(2):345 - 349.


Images thanks to estherase via Flickr.


How often is poultry injected with phosphates? The vast majority of chicken products—more than 90%—were found to contain these additives and most of the packages of meat didn't list the additives on their label.

Sometimes they call the phosphate additives "flavorings" or "broth," and sometimes the labels don’t say anything at all. If they do list them, it will probably be ones of these. I'd recommend minimizing one's intake of anything with those four letters: p.h.o.s. They're also used in a lot in junk foods and fast food. This one has phosphorus and aluminum. You see this a lot in processed cheeses. One grilled cheese sandwich and we may exceed the World Health Organization’s provisional tolerable daily intake of aluminum by 428%.

And the food industry no longer has to list phosphorus content on the Nutrition Facts label.There have certainly been calls from the public health community to mandate that phosphorus content of foods be included back on the nutrition facts label. Good luck with that.

All these studies bring home the same strong message: phosphorus-containing additives are present in most meat products and significantly increase the phosphorus content. Moreover, the lack of this information in the Nutrition Facts labels and even in nutrition databases prevents patients and dietitians from accurately estimating food phosphorus content and intake. So as if animal products weren't bad enough already, the added phosphates may bring them up to here.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Ariel Levitsky.

To help out on the site please email

Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

This is the third of a three-part video series on phosphate additives added to meat and junk food. The first, Phosphate Additives in Meat Purge and Cola, described the risk for the general population associated with the consumption of these preservatives and compared the phosphorus levels in various foods. In my last video, Phosphate Additives in Chicken, I described the food safety implications (beyond the cardiovascular and kidney concerns).

I’ve previously touched on the aluminum in cheese in Aluminum in Vaccines vs. Food. More concerning, though, are the levels of lead in venison (Filled Full of Lead) and mercury in tuna (The Effect of Canned Tuna on Future Wages).

If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

  • guest

    What do you make to the European Food Safety Authority Study on Aluminum in Food?

    I know you have done some videos on this sort of stuff but the study I
    have referenced lists mushrooms, spinach, radish, swiss chard, tea leaves, herbs, spices, and cocoa products as having aluminum levels that
    some would consider rather high.

    Are you concerned?

  • Dennis

    Hello Dr.:

    How does one detox. or remove aluminum in our tissues?

    • Don Forrester MD

      The best way is to avoid intake and let the body work on removing it via the kidneys. One agent available for detoxifying is deferoxamine. However it’s use should be restricted to aluminum toxicity.

      • Dan

        If I recall correctly (from my training), deferoxamine is also used to chelate copper in Wilson’s disease and mercury in organic mercury poisoning, but since my knowledge base is dated, I may be completely wrong!

  • Ernest Mayberry

    Dr. Greger,

    What about tricalcium phospate used in almond and soy milks to supplement calcium? Are these harmful?

    • Darryl

      Curses. The only almond milk I liked was 365, largely because Ca3(PO4)2 didn’t impart the same chalky taste to creamed soups as the CaCO3 used in other brands.

  • Dan

    Looks like phosphate is another amongst the veritable litany of toxins found in our meat and dairy supply…

  • Sandy

    Do non-dairy cheeses have this same problem?

    • Darryl

      Some do. Among vegan cheeses, Daiya, Dr Cow, Road’s End Chreese and Teese products have no phosphate additives. Tofutti and some Go Veggie and Vegan Gourmet products do include phosphate salts.

      • Monica

        How about yogurt? I cannot find any non-dairy yogurt which does not have tri-calcium phosphate in it. So Delicious, WholeSoy, Silk Live all list tricalcium phosphate in their ingredients. It is very frustrating. I became vegan to be healthy but I can’t seem to avoid these additives unless I make my own home-made almond or soy milk.

        • Darryl

          Yep, I’ve looked at 8 brands. The tricalcium phosphate (TP) doesn’t seem neccessary from a preservative, buffer, or emulsifying agent standpoint, its there to approach and even exceed dairy yogurt’s calcium (Ca) content.

          The amount varies from Almond Dream providing 20% of the Ca DV in 6 oz to WholeSoy with 50% of the DV in 8 oz. In the later case, the 10 g of soy protein would naturally provide 8% of the Ca requirement, so 42% of the Ca is from the added TP. Using the 1000 mg Ca RDA for 19-50 year old adults as the DV, that’s 420 mg Ca and 216 mg inorganic phosphorus from the TP. Nearly the equivalent of four 12 oz cans of cola.

        • elsie blanche

          Email the companies that add this to their products and let them know you have stopped buying their said products until they remove the try-calcium phosphate (just a suggestion. but this approach has worked for other questionable ingredients over the years).

          • Monica

            Great idea Elsie ! I will do that. Darryl, thanks for the info. In the meantime I checked my almond milk that I buy. It’s called “Califa Farms” brand. It does not have any phosphate but it mentions “calcium carbonate.” Is that also a curse?

          • Ernest Mayberry

            Calcium carbonate should be fine. Refer to the following video by Dr. Greger (video shows soy milk with calcium carbonate as additive):


      • Dan

        Darryl, I noticed that my smoked paprika also contains, in addition to paprika, silicon dioxide and ethoxyquin. Wasn’t able to find out anything about these two additives. Do you know anything offhand about their safety?

        • Don Forrester MD

          Silicon Dioxide is found through out nature and studies show it to be very safe. Ethoxyquin is a double ringed pesticide also used in spices to avoid change in color. It is not used in Europe due to health concerns. I would avoid as much as possible.

          • Dan

            Thanks Don. For some reason I have the vague feeling that Silicon Dioxide is glass, but perhaps I am wrong. As to ethoxyquin, I did a pubmed/medline search and found a wealth of studies confirming what you said – it damages DNA. I am throwing out that smoked paprika pronto!

          • Darryl

            The FDA’s estimate of cancer risks from ethoxyquin use as a spice preservative was less than 0.000002.

            The dose makes the poison. If I threw out all the foods that contained known natural carcinogens (in rodents, at high doses), these would have to go:

            Allspice, anise, apple, apricot, banana, basil, beet, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cantaloupe, caraway, cardamom, carrot, cauliflower, celery, cherries, chili pepper, chocolate, cinnamon, cloves, coffee,collard greens, comfrey herb tea, corn, coriander, currants, dill, eggplant, endive, fennel, garlic, grapefruit,grapes, guava, honey, honeydew melon, horseradish, kale, lemon, lentils, lettuce, licorice, lime, mace, mango, marjoram, mint, mushrooms, mustard, nutmeg, onion, orange, paprika, parsley, parsnip, peach, pear,peas, black pepper, pineapple, plum, potato, radish, raspberries, rhubarb, rosemary, rutabaga, sage, savory,sesame seeds, soybean, star anise, tarragon, tea, thyme, tomato, turmeric, and turnip

          • Dan

            That’s a great perspective. I did not know any of that, although I did know that the dose makes the poison and that rat carcinogencity testing is extremely controversial (and probably doesn’t predict even mouse carcinogencity, let alone human carcinogenicity). Ames has a competing test (patented?) that does not rely on intact animals and thus he has ‘skin in the game’ – though that doesn’t mean he isn’t right on with his comments.

          • Dan

            Darryl, what is your opinion then of organic produce and pesticides/herbicides/fungicides? Should we follow the same principle as in ethoxyquin and forgo the much higher prices of organic produce? (at least here in Canada, during the winter, the prices are dramatically higher for organic, and I’ve always wondered if it’s worth it). Thanks for your input.

  • Emma Nikolaoy

    Iam so thankful Dr Greeger to your videos and series you that way i learn so much for true health and much more the nucleus of nutritions…..Dr Emma.

  • Sebastian!

    Dr. Greger,

    I was going to ask… I know that a type of protein tryptophan is highest in meat and cheese, and this protein helps keep people awake during heavy periods of work. I’m at university studying architecture and do alnighter’s occasionally. in addition to a good strong coffee? It helps lol.

    What I was going to ask is? Is there any evidence that states that cheese such as Mozzarella and Parmesan isn’t as damaging as other cheese? Because I hear it doesn’t harm Lactose intolerant people anywhere near as badly as other forms of cheese.

    Maybe a video such as “the least harmful cheese” video might suit people and help them ween off of the stuff.

    I myself only ingest it for short term benefit whilst I have heavy loads of work to be doing. We architects in England have the same grueling workloads as you medicine folk. It can be tricky.

  • Jill Masson

    Dr. Greger, you’ve clearly stated on many occasions over the years that chicken is full of toxins and other things we want to avoid. I want to know, is organic chicken any safer or better? We eat a lot of organic chicken and organic eggs. Are these foods any safer and cleaner?? They are raised and fed differently, and I can taste a difference, and the texture is different than conventionally raised chicken. I also notice a difference in how I feel when I’ve eaten organic versus non-organic chicken. Are there any studies showing the levels of the toxins and flame retardants in organic chicken and eggs? Thanks for answering my questions.

  • Tara

    Does organic chicken contain phosphates?