We all know that fast food contains a lot of chemicals that everyone (myself included) says is bad for our health. However, we didn’t expect for some of those chemicals to come from the material the food is wrapped in.
A new study in the Environmental Science and Technology Letters scientific journal found that 33% of evaluated fast food packaging items contained per- and polyfluoroalkalyl substances, also known as PSAs. While they’re mainly used as grease repellent to keep the grease from absorbing into the packaging, they’re also known to cause kidney and testicular cancer, thyroid disease, and numerous other health issues.
This wasn’t a small study of packaging. Over 400 samples were collected from fast food stores for evaluation, with nearly all of them coming from 27 different major fast food chains in the United States. Of the 33% of these that tested positive for these fluorinated carcinogens, the majority of them came from direct food contact wrappers — especially in Tex-Mex food, burger, and dessert/bread wrappers.
PSAs have been shown in previous studies to be able to enter food that is in contact with the packaging it is in, meaning that we’ve likely been consuming these carcinogens as we eat the food.
There are ways to limit the intake of carcinogens from these products, however. Putting your food directly into the paper bag carrying everything and removing it from the wrappers is a great start, since none of the brown paper bags tested contained fluorinated compounds. Additionally, the faster you get the food out of the packaging and start eating it, the less time PSAs have to migrate into your food.
This study should definitely bring some concern to how fast food packaging is developed, and hopefully changes are undertaken in the future. For now, follow the tips above (or spend less time getting food from fast food restaurants), and you should be alright.
Hopefully, companies will take this study to heart and change the way they make food wrappers.