Ketchup, Mustard, and Fluorine, Oh My! Toxic Chemicals Found in Fast Food Packaging

In the first comprehensive survey of its kind, researchers investigated the presence of fluorinated chemicals in fast food packaging. Four hundred samples, including paper wrappers, paperboard, and drink containers from 27 fast food chains throughout the United States, were analyzed for PFASs (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), a class of chemicals that have been linked to cancer, developmental and immune system problems, low birth weight and decreased fertility. The findings were published in February 2017 in Environmental Science and Technology.

About one third of total samples came back containing fluorine, including about half of the paper wrappers and 20 percent of paperboard samples. When examined more closely, some of the wrappers contained PFOA or C8, the Teflon chemical produced by DuPont that has since been discontinued in the United States (although other countries still manufacture it). Three PFASs were banned from food packaging in early 2016 by the FDA due to new data pointing towards "the toxicity of substances structurally similar to these compounds that demonstrate there is no longer a reasonable certainty of no harm from the food-contact use of these FCSs.” Those chemicals are no longer manufactured in the US but they were still imported.

Not all food inside these wrappers absorbs the chemicals because it depends on factors such as the greasiness of the food and the amount of time that it was in contact with the wrapper. However, these findings add to growing evidence that you might want to rethink the purchase of packaged and processed food contained in packaging. This is especially true for children, with about one third of American children consuming fast food daily. Children are more vulnerable to toxic chemicals given their developing bodies and size.

[Source: Environmental Health News; Silent Spring Institute]