Fast Food Wrappers Contain Harmful Chemicals: Study

New research suggests that about one-third of all fast food containers and wrappers contain potentially harmful chemicals, which have been linked to various health risks, such as cancer, elevated cholesterol levels, decreased fertility, thyroid problems, hormonal changes and potential decreased immune responses among children. 

In a study published this month in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, researchers with the Silent Spring Institute determined that nearly half of all sandwich wrappers and 20 percent of food boxes contained fluorinated chemicals, which are used for non-stick, water-repellant and stain-resistant attributes.

Researchers tested more than 400 samples of fast food containers, wrappers, boxes, lids and beverage cups from 27 leading fast food chains in the U.S., looking for per- and poly-fluoroalkyl chemicals, or PFOAs and PFOSs. These chemicals are commonly used in water-repellant, stain-resistant, and non-stick products, such as furniture, carpets, outdoor gear, clothing, cosmetics and cookware. However, fluorinated chemicals may also leach into food and pose health risks.

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Sandwich wrappers and pastry bags, boxes used for fries and pizza, outer bags, paper cups, milk and juice containers and lids were tested as part of the study. Overall, one-third of fast food packaging contained the fluorinated chemicals. Specifically, 46% of sandwich wrappers and pastry bags tested positive for the chemicals, as well as 20% of fry and pizza boxes, and 16% of milk and juice containers.

Food paper bags, paper cups and drink lids tested negative for fluorinated chemicals.

Researchers indicate that the findings are especially troubling considering PFOAs and PFOSs are linked to including kidney and testicular cancer, decreased fertility, thyroid problems and interfering with hormones. They have also shown to affect the development and immune response in children.

Six of the samples contained long-chain perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), also known as C8. Many major U.S. manufactures agreed to stop using C8 in food packaging after an FDA review in 2011 revealed health side effects.

Some food packaging tested positive for shorter-chain PFASs, which are often used as replacements for long-chain PFASs, but have not been shown to be safe.

While most Americans are aware that fast food is not healthy, many are unaware the packaging the food comes in may also be harmful to their health. Studies estimate one in three American children eat fast food every day.

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