We moms all know that fast foods are not healthy, but every now and then, most of us allow our families to cheat. Whether it’s picking up a GMO free dinner at fast food alternative Chipotle or indulging with a cup of Starbucks, we know that keeping things in moderation is usually safe. But did you know that your family actually be getting an extra dose of chemicals from toxic fast food packaging? It’s not just canned foods that contain harmful substances. Paper products can be unsafe too.
Earlier this month, the Silent Sprint Institute released the results of testing they did on samples of paper wrappers and paperboard packaging from 27 fast food chains throughout the U.S. for the presence of fluorinated chemicals. The results? Every single chain had at least one product with these chemicals. (For 6 of these, only a small sample – 6 products or less – was tested.)
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Which Fast Food Chains Carry Toxic Packaging?
All the chains surveyed carried at least some toxic fast food packaging. Some shouldn’t surprise you: Burger King, McDonald’s, KFC, and Starbucks. Hold on though! Some of the chains that are trying to improve their offerings, like Chipotle and Panera, contained these toxic chemicals too!
Some paper products were worse than others. Of the samples tested, here is the percent that tested positive for fluorine:
- Dessert and bread wrappers: 58%
- Sandwich and burger wrappers: 38%
- Paperboard, like cardboard French fry holders: 20%
- Paper cups: 0%
In fact, 1/3 of all the samples that the institute tested contained detectable levels of fluorine. What does that mean to consumers? Unfortunately, fluorine indicates the presence of PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances). Nonstick, stain-resistant and waterproof products use these chemicals, according to CNN Health.
The Dangers of PFAS Substances
Are PFAS substances really dangerous for your family? The Center for Disease Control’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) states that the science is unclear. However, here are the key things they report about the effects of PFAS:
- Some PFAS accumulate in the body. They do decrease over time, but if your child has difficulty clearing toxins, that can present a problem.
- Studies done on lab animals have shown problems and changes in their liver, thyroid, pancreas functioning and in hormonal levels when exposed to high levels of various PFAS.
- The science in human studies shows conflicting reports.
- That said, some of these human studies have shown:
- effects on developing fetuses
- decreased fertility
- hormonal interference
- increased cholesterol
- effects on the immune system
- increased cancer risk
The EPA’s “Warning” About PFAS Substances
How much danger is there? It’s unclear but the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has labeled PFAS as an “emerging contaminant.” These substances are “characterized by a perceived, potential, or real threat to human health or the environment or by a lack of published health standards.”
In other words, not enough studies have been done on these substances to ensure they are safe for human exposure. Remember that PFAS are found in measurable amounts in most people in the U.S. That’s because PFAS are also found in lots of products, just like fast food packaging, and are known to accumulate in the body.
Does Toxic Fast Food Packaging Pose A Danger?
The ATSDR says that PFAS have been “largely phased out of food packaging materials” such as fast food packaging and popcorn bags, but the Silent Spring report tells a different story.
Even so, could the PFAS in packaging migrate to the food itself? Well, it depends on a lot of variables, including the type of food, the type of PFAS, the amount of time exposed and the temperature of the food and container. However, I could only find two studies on this issue, one which suggests that a common item found in foods, soy lecithin, along with oil can contribute to PFAS getting into your food under certain conditions.
Since these chemicals accumulate, our exposure to them is something that we should be reducing.
How to Avoid PFAS Substances
The ATSDR says that PFAS are unavoidable, but we moms know better, right? These tips will help your family avoid these chemicals:
- Give up the fast food cheat.
As someone who’s been detoxing my family for over 6 years, I know this is tough! However, it’s well worth the sacrifice. The first step is taking the time to plan a healthy alternative that’s not stressful to make, like choosing healthier lunchmeats and breads to make a sandwich dinner, or whipping up eggs. You can also do bulk cooking and freeze dinners ahead of time to make life easier on those busy nights.
- Avoid microwaved popcorn and take out pizza.
I’m not sure that I trust that all PFAS are completely out of these types of containers after this report. Better safe than sorry, I’d avoid these products as much as possible.
- Avoid nonstick cookware and products.
PFAS can release into the environment with heat, depending on what you are cooking. Replace your nonstick products with stainless steel, cast iron, lead-free glass and ceramic cookware and bakeware to be safe.
- Avoid stain- and water-repellent products.
Carpets and furniture are the biggest culprits but outdoor clothing and tents can contain them as well. If you are buying new, skip this option.
- Avoid remodeling and cleaning products that contain PFAS.
Be cautious with other products that are resistant to oil, stains and grease and repel water. According to the ATSDR, this can include cleaning products, paints, varnishes and sealant. The EPA adds wire insulation, leather, and certain kinds of paper to this list.
- Avoid PFAS in your makeup and personal care products.
The ATSDR also says that personal care products like shampoo and dental floss, as well as cosmetics such as nail polish and eye makeup, can contain PFAS. We recommend BeautyCounter for products like these.
- Be cautious with seafood.
Seafood in certain areas can be contaminated with PFAS, including Minnesota, Michigan and Alabama, according to the ATSDR. Learn how to purchase the safest seafood for your family.
It may be impossible to avoid PFAS 100% of the time, but toxic fast food packaging is another good reason to avoid fast food. Steering clear of both this chemical and processed foods as much as possible is a good start to ensuring your children have a healthy diet and a nontoxic life.
Bookieboo has also worked with numerous brands in the natural space, including BeautyCounter.