Fast food packaging contains potentially harmful chemicals

The greaseproof packaging holding your burger and fries may contain potentially harmful fluorinated chemicals that can leach into food, according to a new peer-reviewed study.

In the most comprehensive analysis to date on the prevalence of highly fluorinated chemicals in fast food packaging in the United States, researchers tested more than 400 samples from 27 fast food chains throughout the country.    

The samples, consisting of paper wrappers, paperboard, and drink containers, were analyzed for a class of chemicals called PFASs (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), also known as PFCs. These highly fluorinated chemicals are widely used in an array of nonstick, stain-resistant, and waterproof products, including carpeting, cookware, outdoor apparel, as well as food packaging.

Reporting February 1 in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters, the researchers applied a novel technique using particle-induced gamma-ray emission (PIGE) spectroscopy to analyze the samples for fluorine — a marker of PFASs. The team found that almost half of paper wrappers (example, burger wrappers and pastry bags) and 20 percent of paperboard samples (example, boxes for fries and pizza) contained fluorine. Tex-Mex food packaging and dessert and bread wrappers, in particular, were most likely to contain fluorine compared with other categories of packaging.

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