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Over a third of all fast food packaging contains chemicals that are harmful to health


Study: Doctors examine the usual packaging for fast food
The consumption of fast food is not really healthy for the human body, this fact should have been known to most people for a long time. Although this form of food is usually a quick and inexpensive alternative, it also contains large amounts of fat, sodium and cholesterol. But not only the food itself, the packaging could also have a negative impact on the health of consumers. Researchers have now found that around a third of all fast food packaging contains harmful chemicals.

The researchers found that many fast food packaging contains chemicals that are harmful to human health. The chemicals contained in the packaging are preferred by producers because of their fat-repellent properties. The doctors published the results of their study in the journal "Environmental Science & Technology".

What other products also contain fluorinated chemicals?
The fast food industry uses so-called fluorinated chemicals (PFASs) to manufacture packaging. However, their water-repellent, dirt-repellent and non-stick properties are not only used for fast food packaging. Furniture, carpets, outdoor equipment, clothing, cosmetics and cookware also use this type of chemical, the authors of the study explain.

Effects of the chemicals examined on the human body:
The substances most studied in the study (PFOSs and PFOAs) are associated with kidney and testicular cancer, elevated cholesterol levels, reduced fertility, thyroid problems and changes in hormone function, the scientists say. In children, the chemicals can also lead to a reduced immune response. Unfortunately, because such chemicals are used in many everyday products, consumers are often exposed to them.

What does the level of chemical migration depend on?
Current research has shown that the extent of the migration of chemicals depends on the temperature of the food and the type of food. The length of contact between food and packaging also affects migration, says author Laurel Schaider of the Silent Spring Institute in Massachusetts. Of course, it also depends on which specific chemical is included in the packaging.

These six types of packaging were examined
For their investigation, the scientists collected more than 400 samples of fast food packaging from 27 leading US chains. The types of packaging were divided into six categories. These included:

- Food contact paper (sandwich packaging and pastry bags)
- Food contact cardboard (boxes for fries or pizza)
- Non-contact paper (outer bag)
- paper cup
- Other beverage containers (milk and juice containers)
- Different lids

Which packaging did the worst?
The worst results were found for food contact paper. Experts explain that 46 percent of all the samples taken were tested for fluorine. This was followed by so-called food contact cardboard. Fluorine was also found in 20 percent of the cardboard tested. The “Other beverage containers” category also contained 16 percent of the harmful chemical, the authors add.

Packaging should be examined more closely
Today, fluorine chemicals with short chains are mostly used for food packaging with a so-called barrier coating. For this reason, it's no real surprise that these chemicals were found frequently during the study, experts say. All packaging products would be rigorously tested to ensure that food packaging is safe for consumers.

Oil, fat and water resistance also possible without harmful chemicals
The study was carried out in 2014 and 2015. Some fluorine-free products have now been introduced, the researchers explain. This means better options for fast food packaging. Oil, grease and water resistance can now also be achieved without fluorine in the packaging, the experts add.

Possibilities to avoid PFAS exposure?
What options do fast food restaurant customers have to avoid PFAS exposure when buying a burger or other fast food? Unfortunately, there is no easy way for consumers to tell whether the packaging is fluorinated chemicals or not, the authors say. For example, if people try to reduce exposure to these chemicals, they can remove the food from the packaging earlier than later, the doctors advise. You can also insist that your fries or dessert be served in cardboard packaging or a so-called non-contact paper bag. (as)

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