For all the attention paid to damaging fast food ingredients – it is only recently that a spotlight illuminated its packaging to be among the worst ingredients to which consumers could expose themselves.
A comprehensive analysis on the prevalence of highly fluorinated chemicals detected this chemical in more places than originally known. These damaging chemicals were found in the waxy cups, wrappers, paperboard (boxes for fries, pizza, etc.), and cupholders of the most typical American eateries.
The Silent Spring Institute reports:
In the most comprehensive analysis(link is external) to date on the prevalence of highly fluorinated chemicals in fast food packaging in the United States, researchers tested more than 400 samples from 27 fast food chains throughout the country. The samples, consisting of paper wrappers, paperboard, and drink containers, were analyzed for a class of chemicals called PFASs (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), also known as PFCs. These highly fluorinated chemicals are widely used in an array of nonstick, stain-resistant, and waterproof products, including carpeting, cookware, outdoor apparel, as well as food packaging.
“These chemicals have been linked with numerous health problems, so it’s concerning that people are potentially exposed to them in food,” says Laurel Schaider, an environmental chemist at Silent Spring Institute and the study’s lead author. Exposure to some PFASs has been associated with cancer, thyroid disease, immune suppression, low birth weight, and decreased fertility. “Children are especially at risk for health effects because their developing bodies are more vulnerable to toxic chemicals,” says Schaider. Approximately one third of children in the U.S. consume fast food every day.
The analysis entitled “Fluorinated Compounds in U.S. Food Packaging” was published in Environmental Science & Technology Letters on February 1.
How did we get to this point? It’s almost like some packaging exec sat down in a boardroom thinking about his biggest customers, the fast food chains, and said, “how can we can make the cheapest, thinnest wrappers that can also survive a lava-hot oil vat and underwater snorkeling?” Yet, the answer to that question comes from the chemical creations of companies like DuPont, who last year, got in trouble to the tune of $5.1 million to a cancer victim of PFOA (Perfluorooctanoic Acid) thanks to the chemical getting into drinking water. (And people call us paranoid.)
The Institute also reports:
The team found that almost half of paper wrappers (e.g., burger wrappers and pastry bags) and 20 percent of paperboard samples (e.g., boxes for fries and pizza) contained fluorine. Tex-Mex food packaging and dessert and bread wrappers, in particular, were most likely to contain fluorine compared with other categories of packaging.
To characterize the different types of PFASs present and to validate their analysis, the researchers conducted a more detailed study on a subset of 20 samples. In general, samples that were high in fluorine, also contained PFASs. Six of the samples contained a long-chain PFAS called PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid, also known as C8). Following a review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, in 2011 several major U.S. manufacturers voluntarily agreed to stop using C8 compounds in food packaging due to health hazards.
Our readers may still be reeling from the news that these highly fluorinated chemicals are a part of nearly 100% of microwavable popcorn bags. We don’t find out until it’s almost too late about these problems because the chemicals aren’t considered an “ingredient,” yet we do ingest them and face the consequences. Do you know someone who may eat at fast food places 2-3 times a day and then have popcorn at night? How can there be a such thing as “safe levels” considering that there are different people, different eating habits?
Furthermore, these chemicals do not break down and they are found in the blood of most – if not all – Americans. They are highly resistant to degradation. The researchers who huddled on this analysis sound like they want PFASs banned, but seemed more concerned with the idea of leaching landfills than with the stark reality that every American who eats take-out has the chemicals leaching into them from their food.
TreeHugger recommends the Silent Spring Institute’s Detox Me app – “a free smartphone app that walks you through simple, research-based tips on how to reduce your exposure to potentially harmful chemicals, including fluorinated chemicals, where you live and work.”
If there is just one more empowering change you can make for your health it would be to limit or cut trips to the fast food places and opt for sit-down diners instead – yes they have toxic packaging too with their frozen food, I’m sure. But the ingredients and use of take-out packaging are more limited and it shows the corporate chains that we’re keeping money out of their bottom line.