Did you know that eating 500 chicken McNuggets will kill you? This is thanks to Tertiary Butylhydroquinone, a preservative and antioxidant that prevents unsaturated oils from becoming rancid.

TBHQ is derived from petroleum and is a form of butane, making it equivalent to lighter fluid. Ingesting a single gram of TBHQ will likely cause nausea, vomiting, a sense of suffocation, or ringing in the ears. Consuming five grams will kill you.

While the amounts of this ingredient are limited in food, its safety remains questionable, as some studies show that it might be carcinogenic. There is yet to be a clinical study, but findings suggest that TBHQ may also aggravate ADHD symptoms as well as anxiety and restlessness.
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TBHQ is largely found in oils, high-fat packaged foods, and chicken nuggets (at least if you’re in North America). What’s interesting about TBHQ is that chicken McNuggets in the UK do not contain the controversial ingredient. Because McDonald’s tailors its products to its customers, nuggets in the UK are produced differently than those produced in North America. In the UK nuggets are cooked prior to being coated, while in North America they’re coated prior to being cooked. The latter procedure allows more oil to be absorbed, explaining why American nuggets contain 33 per cent more fat and Canadian nuggets contain 56 per cent more fat according to mcdonalds.com.

As a result of this difference, TBHQ is needed to protect this extra fat from oxidation. This example illustrates that the extra fat in chicken nuggets not only promotes obesity and heart disease, but also necessitates the use of poison, showing that when it comes to product formulations, the food industry desperately needs to be thinking less about taste. Personally, I’d prefer a slightly less flavourful product in exchange for a TBHQ-free diet.

TBHQ is a perfect example of how the food industry manages to incorporate what is literally considered to be poison into our food. Sure they only use miniscule amounts, but its presence is definitely not heartwarming. Watch out for TBHQ, it tends to turn up where you’d least expect it.