For years...we've been told to watch what we eat. But, it turns out what we don't eat -- could be just as concerning. The packaging your food comes wrapped or boxed in is causing concern for doctors and scientists. A study published today in a journal called Environmental, Science & Technology Letters took a look at 400 fast food containers from a number of popular restaurant chains. Researchers found up to 46% had chemicals called PFAs -- linked to some common health problems.
Besides tasting good, fast food is convenient. For parents, like Jason Mohprasit, it adds a needed element of simplicity to already hectic days. "It's convenience. Time-slotting between school and kids...homework and bed and work, right?"
We know fast food isn't exactly the healthiest option. Now researchers say even the packaging could be harmful. PFA's or perfluoroalkyl substances, the chemical often used in stain-resistant or water repellent items, are a key component in packaging. It keeps the grease from seeping through your container. PFC's are found in sandwich wrappers, boxes for fries and pizza, as well as cookie and pastry bags. But, paper cups were clear.
"It's terrifying to think that products that may be harmful are used everyday...and lots of people don't know about it," says Britney Blackstock. "I think there should be some transparency to the products that consumers use."
According to the Centers for Disease Control, some PFAs have shown links to liver, thyroid, hormone, and cholesterol levels....even cancer. That's alarming news for new mother Candace Simmons, who tries to keep her 10 month old home-fed. "It really makes me just wanna be more prepared...more organized, she says. "If I am organized and well prepared, I would already have that food made."
Besides avoiding fast food, how do you limit exposure? Researchers suggest serving meals in wax paper, and removing your food from wrappers immediately to lessen its contact with chemicals.
The study did not examine how much of the chemical migrated into food, and researchers also say further study should be done to determine the scope of the chemical's effect on health.
I reached out to the Food and Drug Administration for comment on what measures are being taken to have chemicals removed from fast food packaging. The agency sent the following response:
"The FDA does not typically comment on specific studies, but evaluates them as part of the body of evidence to further our understanding about a particular issue and assist in our mission to protect public health.
Potential sources of fluorine in food packaging may be from FDA approved uses of short –chain perfluorinated coatings applied to the packaging or may be from environmental sources.
Under FDA’s food additive authority, the FDA is responsible for evaluating the safety of substances used for food packaging and monitors the safety of these compounds based on the available science. After FDA identified safety concerns with long-chain perfluorinated compounds, the use of these substances in food packaging has either been voluntarily phased out by industry or is no longer authorized under FDA’s food additive regulations.
The FDA has carefully reviewed the available science on short-chain perfluorinated compounds and has not identified safety concerns about the use of these compounds. The agency continues to review emerging science as it becomes available and will take action as needed to protect public health."
In 2010, the FDA pursued safety concerns regarding PFC compounds. In 2011, according to the FDA, manufacturers agreed to voluntarily stop distributing that category of PFCs. Since then, the FDA says it has eliminated remaining uses of long-chain PFCs that were not covered by the voluntary agreement.
What measures are being taken to have chemicals removed from fast food packaging?