Here’s another thing to worry about at a fast food restaurant: the packaging.
That wrapping paper and paper containers that hold your burgers, fries, burritos, etc. can be bad for your health.
But as long as you don’t stuff the materials up your nose, you should be safe, right? After all, you don’t eat food wrapping and packaging materials. Well, actually maybe you do.
Many fast food wrappers and containers have a grease repelling chemical coating, which according to a report in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters, may consist of fluorinated compounds.
As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains, these flourinated compounds, otherwise known as PFASs (Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) may “affect the developing fetus and child, including possible changes in growth, learning, and behavior, decrease fertility and interfere with the body’s natural hormones, increase cholesterol, affect the immune system, and increase cancer risk.”
The wonderful thing is that you may not have to eat the wrappers or packaging materials to eat PFASs.
Prior studies (such as this one, this one, and this one) have shown that these chemicals can move from the packaging onto your food. Yes, you may be thinking WTPFAS?
For the report, researchers from the Silent Spring Institute (Laurel A. Schaider), California Department of Toxic Substances Control (Simona A. Balan), Green Science Policy Institute (Arlene Blum), Environmental Working Group (David Q. Andrews), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (Mark J. Strynar), Hope College (Margaret E. Dickinson and David M. Lunderberg), Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (Johnsie R. Lang), and Notre Dame (Graham F. Peaslee) used particle-induced γ-ray emission (PIGE) spectroscopy to measure the amount of fluorine in around 400 samples of wrappers and containers from fast food restaurants around the United States.
They found that 56% of the dessert and bread wrappers, 38% of the sandwich and burger wrappers, and 20% of the paperboard, and 0% of the paper cups had fluorine.
Fast food wrappers and packaging are not the only sources of PFASs. Many water repellent, stain-resistant, and non-stick household products have PFASs.
The CDC lists the following examples:
- Some grease-resistant paper, fast food containers/wrappers, microwave popcorn bags, pizza boxes, and candy wrappers
- Nonstick cookware such as Teflon® coated pots/pans
- Stain resistant coatings such as Scotchguard® used on carpets, upholstery, and other fabrics
- Water resistant clothing such as Gore-Tex®
- Cleaning products
- Personal care products (shampoo, dental floss) and cosmetics (nail polish, eye makeup)
- Paints, varnishes, and sealants
Dental floss? As if you needed another reason not to floss. And unfortunately pollution has resulted in PFASs in the soil, water, and other parts of the environment.
Even though PFASs may be all around you, you may want to take steps to reduce your exposure, since the bad health effects may depend on the amount and duration of exposure.
So what do you do to avoid PFASs in your food? Well, one option is to ask for no packaging and just have them throw the hot fries in your mouth or in your hands.
However, in many cases, having hot food thrown at your face won’t be safe. Another option is to ask for the food in a paper cup, a paper bag that doesn’t have the coating, or a ceramic plate or bowl if available.
A third option is to avoid restaurants and other locations that use such wrappers or packaging. Also, you may want to stop licking that melted cheese off the wrapping paper.
How much exposure to these wrappers and packaging is too much? Unclear. The amount that leeches into your food really depends on the temperature of the food, the type of food, the length of time it remains in the packaging, and the amount that was on the packaging.
You probably don’t want to wrap your face in them every day (for general aesthetic and social reasons as well), and the greater the exposure, the greater the risk.
You may want to encourage your favorite eateries to change their packaging. Just remember, food at certain restaurants and eateries may have a bad wrap.