image from Live Science
A report published this week in the Journal of Environmental Science & Technology Letters suggests chemicals used in fast food packaging is leaking into our fast food. These chemicals help prevent grease and drippy tomatoes from sogging up the wrapper or box. They also are non-stick and stain proof so a wrapped burger is easier to take out of the packaging looks more aesthetic.
The chemicals of concern are called PFAS’s, pre- or polyfluoroalkyl substances. According to the CDC, PFAS and her sister chemicals Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), perfluorohexane sulfonate (PFHxS), and perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA) have been shown to cause liver, kidney, pancreas and endocrine issues. They can cause fertility issues, increase cholesterol, affect the learning potential and behavior of a fetus and are even carcinogenic. Not only are these substances widely used in the restaurant industry but are they are also used in upholstery, carpeting, Teflon, clothing, cosmetics and metal plating.
Study author, Laurel Schaider, a research scientist at the Silent Spring Institute said, “These 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.” The study did not quantify how much of the chemical leaked, however.
The good news is not all samples collected for this study tested positive for PFAS. When they tested for fluorine, paper cups and “non-contact” paper were clear. The sandwich wrapping, however, was positive for fluorine 46% of the time, followed by the cardboard-like sandwich holders, where 20% tested positive. Beverage cups were at 16% percent.
But these results imply that not all packaging contained fluorine, so alternatives may be used that are not leaking chemicals. Moving forward, although making your own lunch sounds safer, I’ll just ask the fast food server to, in a gloved hand, pass me the burger and throw the fries into my purse. I’m not ready to give up fast food just yet.