Diethylhexyl phthalate, or DEHP, a suspected endocrine disrupter, can be found in 80 percent or more of foods of various forms consumed in Japan, according to findings by the Environment Ministry presented Monday at a ministry investigative panel.

DEHP, commonly used as an additive agent to soften plastics, was also detected in the umbilical cord of newborn infants and observed in air indoors at concentrations higher than before, the findings indicated.

An analysis of various kinds of food found that as much as 330 micrograms of DEHP per kilogram was detected in 84 percent of home-cooked meals, while up to 170 micrograms per kilogram was found in 89 percent of ready-to-eat and restaurant-served meals. DEHP levels as high as 140 micrograms were found in 80 percent of retail baby food products.

The average amount of DEHP in home-cooked meals was about the same as in restaurant or ready-to-eat meals, ministry officials said.

While the amounts are not enough to immediately harm human health, the study noted that polluting foods that people consume on a daily basis is a danger in itself.

The amounts detected are less than one-thousandth of the level that causes reproductive cells in rats to degenerate, ministry officials said.

For home-cooked foods, the study sampled a combination of breakfast, lunch and dinner, collecting three days’ worth of the food from 27 families across the country.

For restaurant meals and ready-to-eat food, the researchers examined 61 dishes from fast-food eateries and family restaurants in the Tokyo metropolitan area, as well as cup noodles and other instant foods sold in stores.

They also analyzed 20 items in the category of baby food, including powdered milk and vacuum-packed foods.

Use of DEHP will be banned next August in plastic wrap and pacifiers made from polyvinyl chloride.