A new report in the Environmental Science & Technology Letters journal reports that one-third of fast food packaging contains dangerous chemicals that pose a health risk to customers.
These fluorinated chemicals, sometimes known as PFASs, are used in fast-food packaging for their grease-repellant and stain-resistant properties. The research team collected over 400 food wrappers from 27 leading fast food chains for the test. 46% of the samples of food contact paper tested positive for fluorine, as did 20% of food contact paperboard, and 16% of other beverage containers.
According to a press release accompanying the report, “the most studied of these substances (PFOSs and PFOAs) has been linked to kidney and testicular cancer, elevated cholesterol, decreased fertility, thyroid problems and changes in hormone functioning, as well as adverse developmental effects and decreased immune response in children.”
Although the chemicals are in the packaging, not the food itself, research shows that the chemicals can migrate into the food, where they can be consumed. “Studies have found that the extent of migration depends on the temperature of the food, the type of food and how long the food is in contact with the paper,” said lead author Laurel Schaider, a research scientist at the Silent Spring Institute.
“Unfortunately, for consumers, there’s no easy way to tell — just by looking at packaging — whether or not it contains fluorinated chemicals,” Schaider said. Instead, she recommends that consumers pressure fast food companies to switch to packaging that doesn’t use these fluorinated chemicals.
“I think that this study provides yet another reason to support the idea that eating more fresh food and more home-cooked meals is better for our health, but it’s hard to avoid the convenience of fast food, especially in people’s busy lives,” she added.