Where Fast Food’s Concerned, Even the Packaging Is Dangerous

We’ve all known for a long time that eating fast food is bad for you. It’s greasy, fatty, high in sodium and the calorie count is obscene. Now comes news that even the packaging that food comes in might be dangerous to your health.

A new study found dangerous chemical compounds in almost half of the 400 fast food containers it tested from 27 fast food franchises. Packaging tested in this study came from the Big Four: McDonald’s, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Starbucks and Yum! Brands, Inc., which operates Taco Bell, KFC, Pizza Hut and WingStreet.

The substances in question are perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs). That’s the same stuff that once was used to make Dupont’s Teflon before it had to be removed from the market. It’s also used in carpeting, furniture, clothing and cosmetics because of its water-repellant and stain-resistant qualities. We’re exposed to it every day.

study results graphic

Photo credit: Environmental Working Group

PFCs break down in the human body when ingested and become per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs). They are highly persistent synthetic chemicals associated with cancer, liver damage, developmental toxicity, reproductive problems, immunotoxicity and other health effects. We use PFCs in food packaging because they help keep oil and grease from soaking through the wrappings and the bags.

We didn’t know PFASs were dangerous in this way until the early 2000s or so. When that fact became clear, the government banned the use of some PFCs in food wrappers. Others remain approved for such use.

Different Franchises, Different Levels of Wrapper Chemicals

The study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters, made some disturbing discoveries about what is still in food packaging today. A whopping 46 percent of paper wrappers and 20 percent of paperboard box samples contained a PFC called fluorine. Hot and cold beverage paper cups, on the other hand, contained no significant levels of fluorine.

Those paper wrappers surround your McDonald’s burgers, Taco Bell burritos and Quiznos subs. Your french fries, pizzas and Big Macs come in those paperboard boxes. Overall, the study found that breads, desserts and Tex-Mex foods are most often wrapped in these forms of packaging.

At Quiznos, Jimmy John’s and Taco Time, 100 percent of packaging samples tested positive for perfluorinated chemicals. Zero percent of the packaging at Carl’s Jr., Five Guys and Round Table Pizza had such chemicals. Other chains like Subway, Burger King, Dunkin’ Donuts and Arby’s fell somewhere in the middle.

We Already Know PFAS Migrates From Wrapper to Food

Other studies have already confirmed that PFASs will migrate from wrappings to food. How much and how fast depends on several other factors. Heat and emusified fats tend to exacerbate this problem — and there’s lots of heat and grease in most fast foods.

fast food on tray

“These studies have found that the extent of migration depends on the temperature of the food, the type of food and how long the food is in contact with the paper,” Silent Spring Institute’s Laurel Schaider, co-author of the study, told CNN. She added that it also “depends on which specific chemical.”

If ever you were looking for that last good reason to ditch fast foods and eat a more healthy diet, maybe this study will convince you. These days, we can’t even count on the wrapper or the box to keep us safe. Worse, they might be contributing to the danger. Enough is enough.

“Given the potential for harm, we must ask if the convenience of water and grease resistance is worth risking our health,” said study co-author Arlene Blum in a statement.

I think we all know that answer to that question. We should prioritize our health over convenience. There are new fluorochemical-free packaging products on the market now. How about using good old wax paper? Fast food companies, please start using something safer or be prepared to find people walking away from the grease-and-sodium fest you offer as “food.”

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Marie W
Marie W1 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

Melania Padilla
Melania P2 years ago

What a disgrace, consumers have the power to change everything! Sharing as well

Chen Boon Fook
Chen Boon Fook2 years ago


Chun Lai T
Chun Lai T2 years ago

Thank you for sharing

Bronwyn B
Bronwyn B2 years ago

WHY do so many people consume this rubbish?? Brainwashed? or brainless?

Alexander P
Alexander P2 years ago

I eat fast food maybe two, three times a year. I figure nothing about it is going to kill me if I'm not eating it every day.

Jeff C
Jeff Creech2 years ago

Fast food franchises frequently for fit Fitness for fats

Celine Russo
Celine Russo2 years ago

...You can't be serious.

Margie F
Margie FOURIE2 years ago

If people must eat fast food, why dont they take their own dishes, then rewash them once the food is eaten?

Hent c