The poisonous chemicals used in the manufacture of fast food packaging have gotten a lot of attention lately. At issue are levels of fluorine found in wrappers for burgers and boxes for fries and pizza. Fluorine reveals the presence of a type of chemical known as PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances).
PFAS are used to keep fast food grease from leaking all over the place. Research has linked PFAS consumption to such chronic conditions of modern civilization as cancer, thyroid disease, high cholesterol, autoimmune disorders, decreased fertility and low birth weight.
Pulling your chain
The fast food industry has responded to this public relations problem with a statement claiming that use of a really bad type of PFAS, known by their molecular structure as “long chain”) has been discontinued. According to the Foodservice Packaging Association, levels of fluorine recently detected markers for “short chain” PFAS—the good kind that are considered safe by the Food and Drug Administration.
The problem with this argument is that the FDA at one time considered the discontinued long chain PFAS safe. It took research that linked ingestion of PFAS via fast food packaging to deadly diseases for the agency to remove approval for them in January of 2016. What’s more, the FDA’s change of tune on these chemicals is the only reason the fast food industry quit using them.
Persistent in the environment
The new PFAS study was co-authored by Environmental Working Group scientists and researchers from federal and state agencies. Among the findings, published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology Letters, fluorine was detected in 33 percent of 407 fast food packages tested.
After the research was published, McDonald’s issued a press release claiming its packaging is PFAS free. However, 19 percent of the 31 of the McDonald’s wrappers tested in the study tested positive for fluorine.
Some of the samples showing the highest levels of fluorine had the long-chain PFAS that have been discontinued. The researchers noted that chemicals such as PFAS are “highly persistent in the environment and may find their way into people’s bodies for years” after they are no longer in use. They also noted that although the short chain PFAS don’t stay in the human body as long, their true effects may not show up for years.
Blood vessel stress
While the effects of PFAS chemicals may take years to affect your health, it doesn’t take very long at all for fast food to start doing its damage. An earlier study found that a McDonald’s fast food breakfast triggered arterial inflammation within an hour after eating. A 2012 study published in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology found that people who ate fast food had constricted arteries 24 hours after the meal.
The immediate blood vessel stress caused by fast food leads to a litany of long-term chronic diseases. Research as linked calorie-dense, nutrition free meals full of sugar, salt and saturated fat lead to weight gain, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, respiratory problems, skin problems and depression. Add the additional hazard of PFAS chemicals and you have more than enough reasons to do your own cooking with fresh ingredients.