Saturday Star

‘Another reason’ to avoid fast food


CHEMICALS that have been associated with cancer and other health problems have been found in some fast-food packaging, according to a new study. Researcher­s found the substances, which can leach into food, in sandwich and dessert wrappers and paperboard containers.

“We have more than one reason to try to eat more fresh food, and to reduce our consumptio­n of fast food,” said Laurel Schaider, one of the study’s authors, and a research scientist for the Silent Spring Institute.

The chemicals, per- and polyfluoro­alkyl substances (PFASs), are used in nonstick, stain-resistant and waterproof products. Fast-food packaging manufactur­ers might use them to keep sauces or grease from leaking through the wrapper. (Consumers are also exposed to them in other products, such as certain types of cookware, coats and carpets.) Some of the substances in this category are associated with kidney and testicular cancer, low birth weight, thyroid disease and immunotoxi­city in children, among other outcomes.

Schaider and her team tested wrappers from 27 fastfood companies, including McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Starbucks and Panera Bread. One-third of all samples tested contained detectable concentrat­ions of flourine, a marker for PFASs. The food packages that were most likely to contain the fluorine were paper wrappers for desserts and sandwiches. Paper board – such as the stiff containers for french fries or pizza – also contained fluorine. Paper cups for beverages were in the clear, though.

Before you panic: “It’s really difficult to make that link between what we were finding in the packaging, and how that might affect someone’s health,” said Schaider. “PFASs are a complex category.”

According to the Center for Disease Control’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, some PFASs “have shown changes in the liver, thyroid, and pancreatic function, as well as some changes in hormone levels”. They also can increase cholestero­l and cancer risk, though more study is needed to understand exactly how these substances – and in which combinatio­n – can affect a person’s health.

The study did not examine how much of the chemical migrated into food, though Schaider noted that other studies have found that such a transfer is possible, especially if the food is hot or contains emulsified fats, such as mayonnaise. – Washington Post

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