The Shocking Story of Toxic Fast Food Packaging and Its Cancer Risks

The Shocking Story of Toxic Fast Food Packaging and Its Cancer Risks

As much convenient as fast food is to quickly take care of the hunger pangs when they kick in (besides these foods also being lip-smacking and delicious) they are not at all good for our health in the long run. Sure, we all love those greasy burgers, crunchy fries, salted snacks, and packaged treats, but the fact is that can do severe harm to our body if we are not careful. Even when you head to the supermarket, you shouldn’t just pick up anything and everything. The practice of reading labels is very important, so as you are aware of what goes into your food and how to make the right choices. This applies to fast food like samosas, tikkis, kachoris and other treats that you pick up from the food stalls near your office for a quick snack, which usually are packed in old newspapers, plastic bags, greased papers, and what not. Sometimes, more than the food, it’s also the packaging that spikes up the health risks.

If you are looking for some hard hitting facts to get convinced, here’s one. Accordingly to a new study, foods like pizzas, French fries and burgers that come packed in greaseproof paper may lead to developmental problems in children, decreased fertility and an increased risk of cancer. The findings showed that food packaging contains more than two dozen toxic highly fluorinated chemicals, including a phased-out substance called PFASs (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), also known as PFCs, that come mostly from older, recycled materials or other undetermined sources.

french fries

So What Are Fluorinated Compounds?

They are highly persistent synthetic compounds that are toxic in nature. They can easily leach into food and increase dietary exposure. “These chemicals have been linked with numerous health problems. Children are especially at risk for health effects because their developing bodies are more vulnerable to toxic chemicals,” said lead author Laurel Schaider, an environmental chemist at Silent Spring Institute – a non-profit organisation in Massachusetts, US.


Long term consumption of these toxins can affect the immune system, hampering various functions of the body. “Exposure to some PFASs has also been associated with cancer, thyroid disease, immune suppression, low birth weight, and decreased fertility,” added Schaider.


For the study, appearing in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters, the team applied a novel technique using particle-induced gamma-ray emission (PIGE) spectroscopy to analyse the samples for fluorine – a marker of PFASs. The results showed that almost half of paper wrappers (e.g., burger wrappers and pastry bags) and 20 per cent of paperboard samples (e.g., boxes for fries and pizza) contained fluorine. Tex-Mex food packaging and dessert and bread wrappers, in particular, were most likely to contain fluorine compared with other categories of packaging.


What’s Most Toxic?


To sum it up, these were the percentages of fluorinated compounds in the respective packaging:


Dessert and bread wrappers: 56%
Sandwich and burger wrappers: 38%
Paperboard: 20%
Paper cups: Nil


Apart from food packaging, the chemical is also used in an array of non-stick, stain-resistant cookware – and in waterproof products, including carpeting, outdoor apparel.


So next time you order for some fast food, insist to the servers that they are served without any greaseproof papers. That could at least be a start!

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