Turns out that the most health-damaging facet of fast food might not even be the greasy-ass burgers and burnt fries: Researchers say that fast-food wrappers and packaging might contain harmful, synthetic chemicals. Great. As if we didn't have enough to worry about right now.
A new study published in Environmental Science and Technology Letters showed that packaging for food items like cheeseburgers, fried chicken, and burritos routinely contains extremely potent fluorine-carbon bonds, called polyfluoroalkyl substances (or PFASs, for all of us non-scientists). These are chemicals meant to combat the grease and heat of fast foods. But, the PFASs may directly cause ailments like kidney and testicular cancer, ulcerative colitis, and high cholesterol. Unfortunately these chemicals may get into your food when it is hot and greasy. Dammit.
And it kind of gets worse. More than one-third of fast-food packaging contained fluorine-carbon bonds, and despite being banned by the FDA, PFOA (a chemical that was supposed to be phased out of all manufactured packaging by 2015) was still found in some of the fast-food packaging -- likely coming from out-of-date materials shipped from overseas. Despite continuing bans on specific chemicals, food corporations continue to tweak the bonds to create new compounds that are technically not banned, but still may present a risk.
"In some cases we don't know exactly what the new chemicals are, but we do know the replacements are still really persistent," said Laurel Schaider, an environmental chemist who led the study in question. "And some of the preliminary evidence suggests they might have the same biological activity."
Fret not, eventually, alternative ways to package fast, greasy food will probably come about. The Danish Ministry of Food has already taken measures to ban all questionable chemicals and seek out viable alternatives. Until America follows suit, we just have to accept this inconvenient truth as another brick in the wall that clearly spells out "Eating fast food might not be good for you!"
It is still delicious, though. We don't need a study to confirm that.