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Study Finds that Fast Food Packaging Still Contains Carcinogenic Chemicals

Burger wrappers and pizza boxes could be as bad for you—or worse—than the food they contain.

by Nick Rose
Feb 1 2017, 6:00pm

Photo via Flickr user Andres Rodriguez

One of the joys of fast food is removing your burger, chicken sandwich, pizza slice, or pile of fries from the paper or aluminum wrapper that envelops and warms it like a greasy blanket, trapping all of that lovely heat and salt and fat inside.

But it turns out that these wrappers could be as bad for you—or worse—than the food they contain. According to a recent study, 40 percent of the 327 food packaging items tested from 27 restaurant chains contained traces of fluorine, the now-banned Teflon material that still makes many people fearful of using non-stick pans.

Unfortunately for most of us, that sample included sandwich and pastry wrappers, French fry bags, pizza boxes, and "other paper and paperboard products."

READ MORE: The Chemical Long Used in Non-Stick Pans Might Be Unsafe at Any Level

So, how can a chemical that has been banned in pots and pans make its way into so many everyday fast food wrappers? The answer lies in a family of chemicals known as PFCs, which which have been linked to cancer, developmental issues, reproductive harm, and compromised immune systems.

Authors of the study say that chemical corporations have recently been flooding the market with a "new generation of PFCs that have not been adequately tested for safety"—potentially because of the far-reaching consequences of these substances.

"We don't know enough about the safety of the new generation of PFCs," said report co-author Bill Walker in a press release. "We know there are dangers of exposure to some of these chemicals at extremely low doses, especially during critical windows of child development. A woman who eats fast food frequently during her pregnancy might consume enough of these chemicals to affect the future health of her child."

Researchers recommended an immediate withdrawal of these products from the fast food supply. "Fast food companies should stop using PFCs or other fluorinated compounds in sandwich or pastry wrappers, fried food containers, pizza boxes or anywhere else where they may come into contact with food," the team said, also calling on the FDA to "close the loophole" that fast food companies use to self-certify chemicals as "Generally Recognized as Safe." Sounds like a pretty huge loophole, TBH.

In the meantime, authors also suggest eating fresh food and preparing meals at home instead of giving in to that drive-thru craving. They also published a thorough guide to avoiding PFCs.

Or, get creative and just ask the person behind the counter to serve you your burger and fries, in all of their artery-clogging beauty, right there on the counter, straight from their hands. Stare them dead in the eye, saying, "This is better for me!"

Or something like that.