fast food packaging

A new study published in Environmental Science and Technology Letters found that one-third of fast food packaging contains harmful chemicals called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFASs. These chemicals are associated with cancer, hormone problems, obesity, and many other health issues.

PFASs are man-made fluorinated chemicals first manufactured over half a century ago to give us products like non-stick cookware, water-repellant items, and grease-resistant food wrappers. The concern is that PFASs in food packaging can leach into the food itself.   

The researchers examined food contact papers, paperboard containers, and beverage containers used in fast food packaging. Here’s what they found:

  • Fluorinated chemicals were present in almost half of all food contact paper (56% of dessert and bread wrappers and 38% of burger and sandwich wrappers) and 20% of paperboard packaging for fried foods.
  • No PFASs were found in paper cups, but 16% of other beverage containers tested positive for the chemicals.

There are several things fast food companies can do to keep PFASs out of the environment. For example, New York University’s Leonardo Trasande recommends using wax paper, rather than grease-resistant paper, for food packaging.


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