We all know that fast foods are loaded with chemical preservatives, calories, bad fats, carbs, and sugar. But now there is another reason to stay away from the stuff. Fast food wrappers contain fluorine which is a highly toxic chemical.
One of the challenges in avoiding these toxic chemicals is you can’t tell by looking if food wrappers contain fluorine.
Researchers from the Silent Spring Institute in Newton tested more than 400 fast food boxes and wrappers from 27 fast food chains across the country for the presence of PFASs – fluorinated chemicals. These are highly fluorinated chemicals which are widely used in a range of non-stick products and have been linked with thyroid disease, cancer, and many other health problems. They found that almost half of paper wrappers (e.g., pastry bags and burger wrappers) and 20 percent of paperboard samples (e.g., boxes for pizza and fries) contained fluorine—a marker of PFASs. (1)
Studies have linked fluorine compounds, such as perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), to a wide range of serious health problems. They include testicular and kidney cancers, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, decreased fertility, high blood pressure during pregnancy, and low-birthweight babies.
PFOS and PFOA are added to paper to stop greasy foods from soaking through packaging. But scientists say that these chemicals leach into food.
Researchers were surprised to find so many food wrappers contain fluorine.
They further broke down their findings and discovered fluorine compounds in:
- 56% of bread and dessert wrappers
- 38% of burger and sandwich wrappers
- 20% of paperboard containers (such as a French fry boxes)
Good news is that no paper cups contained the toxic fluorine. (2)
Toxic Chemicals in Your Food
Laurel Schaider, an environmental chemist, and the study’s lead researcher noted that about one-third of U.S. children eat fast food every day.
She says that children are especially at risk of these toxic chemicals because their bodies are still developing and are more vulnerable.
Schaider also says that the half-life of fluorine compounds in your body is up to 3 ½ years.
Besides food wrappers, PFOA and PFOS are used to make stain-resistant fabrics and carpets and nonstick cookware.
You can choose not to purchase stain-resistant coating on our furniture or a stain-resistant carpet but it is difficult to choose food wrappers that don’t contain fluorinated chemicals.
Fast Food Restaurants Ignore the Problem
Don’t expect fast food restaurants to clean up their act any time soon. Researchers asked the 27 fast food chains included in the study about toxins found in their packaging. Just two companies responded.
One denied that some of their packagings contained fluorinated chemicals. Tests showed they did.
Another company claimed its packaging vendor said its wrappers contained no fluorine. Tests showed they did.
5 Ways to Protect Yourself from Fluorine Compounds
Of course, the best way is to avoid fast food altogether. But these are five simple ways to reduce your exposure:
- Remove the food from the box or wrapper as soon as possible.
- If some of the food has soaked onto the wrapper, such as the cheese on a burger, discard that part.
- Never keep leftover fast food in the original wrapper.
- Ask your server to put chicken fingers, French fries, or other small food items in a paper cup.
- If you are eating in the restaurant, ask that your food is served on a plate.