Would you like fluorinated chemicals with those fries? Probably not. However, you may be unknowingly exposed to these potentially harmful chemicals through the fast-food packaging that comes with your fast food fix, according to a new study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.
Researchers at the Silent Spring Institute in Newton, Mass., tested 400 fast-food packaging samples from 27 restaurants in five U.S. metropolitan areas. They found that 46% of the fast food wrappers and 20% of the paperboard food boxes contained fluorine, a potentially harmful chemical that can leach into food.
Fluorinated chemicals are in a class referred to as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs). They have been linked in previous studies to kidney and testicular cancer, thyroid disease, low birth weight, decreased sperm quality, pregnancy-induced high blood pressure and immune system complications in children.
PFASs are used in a wide range of products, including carpeting, upholstery, outdoor apparel and floor waxes. Some fast food packaging is treated with PFASs to make it resistant to grease. However, the study found that heat and grease can cause the PFASs to leach into the food from the packaging.
According to the Foodservice Packaging Institute, only fluorinated chemicals known as “short-chain” are used in fast food packaging. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have approved the “short-chain” fluorinated chemicals for this use. However, the study found several samples of food wrappers also contained “long-chain” fluorinated chemicals, which are no longer in wide use because of health hazards.
The study found that 38% of sandwich and burger wrappers contained fluorinated chemicals, which were also found in 57% of wrappers used for Tex-Mex food, breads and desserts. Hot and cold beverage cups were also studied, but no notable levels were found in these items.
Researchers said that of particular concern were the long-term effects of these chemicals on children. It is estimated that one-third of U.S. children eat fast food every day.
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