Next time you sink your teeth into a juicy fast food burger, you could be getting more than you bargained for. In addition to eating a meal loaded with extra calories and saturated fat, harmful chemicals may lurk inside that tasty item. For the sake of your health and your family’s, find out which harmful chemicals may lurk in your fast food favorites – and what to do about it.
PFASs and Phthalates
A new study suggests extra calories aren’t the only thing you need to worry about when it comes to eating fast food. Packaging like wrappers and cartons may contain harmful chemicals that leach into the food and may have negative health effects. Researchers from the University of California at Berkeley collected hundreds of packaging samples from fast food restaurants to check for harmful chemicals. They found that nearly 60 percent of dessert and bread packaging and close to 40 percent of burger and sandwich wrappers contain harmful substances known as phthalates, along with perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl, commonly called PFASs.
These substances are being phased out in many countries because of extensive data indicating toxicity to human health, but are still used in the United States. Researchers published their results in the 2017 edition of Environmental Science & Technology Letters.
How They’re Used
The oils in PFASs make them convenient for fast food packaging. These oily substances help prevent the fast food from sticking to its containers. Because of their water-repellent properties, PFASs are used for just about all types of fast food packaging except soda containers.
Phthalates are typically used in plastic containers thanks to their flexibility and transparency. Foods that come in plastic containers, especially those that sit under warm lights, can contain significant levels of phthalates that may leach into food.
How They Harm Human Health
Chemicals like PFASs and phthalates are used in hundreds of products like toys. However, these nonfood sources don’t carry the same level of concern, because you’re not ingesting them. Scientists are still learning how chemicals such as PFASs and phthalates harm human health, but they are gaining some insight. For instance, PFASs are linked to women’s reproductive health problems. There’s a connection between PFASs and an increased risk of polycystic ovary syndrome and other hormonal imbalances in women, according to a study published in the 2015 issue of the journal Fertility and Sterility.
Phthalates are linked to infertility, diabetes, obesity and even cancer. A 2016 study found that people who regularly eat fast food are exposing themselves to 40 percent more phthalates than people who eat most meals at home. The results of that study were published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
How to Reduce Your Exposure
Environmental agencies are calling for the Food and Drug Administration to investigate the chemicals in fast food packaging. Seeing the writing on the wall, some manufacturers have voluntarily moved to PFAS-free and phthalate-free packaging. Until there’s an official ban on these substances, you can reduce your exposure by cutting back on fast food.
When you do choose a fast food meal, remove it from the packaging as quickly as possible. The levels of harmful chemicals that can leach into the food increase the longer the food remains in the package. Additionally, avoid heating your food in its packaging. The heat increases the amount of chemicals that leach into the food. However, this is just another reason to make healthier food choices and make more meals at home from fresh or frozen foods.