Via Fark: a blog last week remarked about McDonald’s chicken products, quoting The Omnivore’s Dilemma::
But perhaps the most alarming ingredient in a Chicken McNugget is tertiary butylhydroquinone, or TBHQ, an antioxidant derived from petroleum that is either sprayed directly on the nugget or the inside of the box it comes in to “help preserve freshness.” According to A Consumer’s Dictionary of Food Additives, TBHQ is a form of butane (i.e. lighter fluid) the FDA allows processors to use sparingly in our food: It can comprise no more than 0.02 percent of the oil in a nugget. Which is probably just as well, considering that ingesting a single gram of TBHQ can cause “nausea, vomiting, ringing in the ears, delirium, a sense of suffocation, and collapse.” Ingesting five grams of TBHQ can kill.
I don’t know whether we should be eating high quantities of preservatives in our food, but this is just scaremongering.
A nugget containing the claimed maximum, 0.02 percent, would require you to eat 5kg to attain a TBHQ dose of 1 gram. A 20-piece order has a mass of 320g. A maximally-preserved batch of nuggets would require one to eat 312.5 nuggets (13,125 kcal/54,915 kJ) to obtain this dose. I enjoy the occasional ultra-processed nugget, but they aren’t that tasty.
Second, the post assumes you don’t know chemistry: TBHQ contains a butyl moiety (a tert-butyl moiety, more accurately), but so does butter, which contains esters of the blameless butyrate (when degraded to free butyrate, it’s the origin of the smell of rancid butter, esterified, as in fresh butter, it’s not a problem). Butter is not lighter fluid, nor is TBHQ:
Contrast the very different butane or higher alkanes (such as the six-carbon hexane), which compose real lighter fluid, which will harm you if you ingest it (or inhale too much) and won’t protect your food against spoilage.
A butyl group does not butane make. It’s worth noting that preservatives might not be entirely benign (you also encounter BHT and BHA, your cereal box’s cardboard is probably impregnated with one of these). However, none of these are lighter fluid by a long shot.