The greaseproof packaging may contain potentially harmful chemicals that can end up in food
Counting calories is no longer the only worry consumers may have about fast food.
Environmental group Silent Spring Institute has released a new study that claims that the greaseproof packaging holding some fast food products may contain possibly dangerous fluorinated chemicals that can seep into the food.
The researchers tested more than 400 samples that they collected from 17 fast food chains. They collected the samples from paper wrappers, paperboard, and drink cups and analyzed them for a class of chemicals known as PFASs (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), which are also known as PFCs.
The Institute claims that these chemicals are used in many nonstick, stain-resistant, and waterproof products. In addition to food packaging, they are also found in carpeting, cookware, and outdoor clothing.
According to Silent Spring Institute Environmental Chemist and lead author Laurel Schaider, the chemicals have been linked to health problems, so it makes sense for them to be examined.
"Exposure to some PFASs has been associated with cancer, thyroid disease, immune suppression, low birth weight, and decreased fertility," Schaider said. "Children are especially at risk for health effects because their developing bodies are more vulnerable to toxic chemicals."
The issue is particularly concerning, she said, because roughly one third of children in the U.S. eat fast food each day.
Fluorine from Recycled Materials
The researchers searched for evidence of fluorine, which is a PFAS marker. They say that they found traces of the chemical in almost half of the paper burger wrappers and pastry bags that they analyzed and in roughly 20 percent of cardboard food boxes, such as containers for pizza and French fries.
The study found that Tex-Mex food packaging and wrappers were the worst offenders. They were the most likely to contain more traces than any other category of food packaging.
Many manufacturers willingly agreed to stop using the harmful compounds in their food packaging in 2011 after the Food and Drug Administration performed a review of packaging materials.
The researchers note that it may not be the manufacturers' fault directly that there are elements in fluorine in their food packaging. Instead, they say, it might have gotten into the system from recycled materials used in making the packaging.
The good news, they say, is that there are other options for manufacturers when it comes to packaging. There are many materials that do not contain fluorine and can be used to package fast food products.