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'Forever chemicals' found in packaging at fast food chains, study says

Posted at 9:11 AM, Sep 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-15 10:14:02-04

How often do you swing through a fast food restaurant for a burger and fries? You already know that's not the healthiest choice, but it's not just what you're eating that could be dangerous. It turns out, how it's served to you could also affect your health.

A new study took a look at a number of popular fast food chains and found potentially hazardous chemicals in the packaging of burgers, fries – even salads.

Emily Bishop works in Washington, DC and often runs out to pick up a quick lunch before heading back to the office. That’s why she chooses restaurants like Sweetgreen or CAVA.

“I know that it’s healthy. There’s going to be good ingredients that are good for me,” said Bishop.

While the ingredients may be healthy, new testing from Toxic-Free Future found that every single molded fiber bowl or tray tested from CAVA, Sweetgreen, and another chain, Freshii, contained some of the highest levels of fluorine found in the report.

The presence of fluorine indicates the packaging was likely treated with PFAS.

“PFAS, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are used to make food packaging grease and water resistant. They’re often referred to as 'forever chemicals' because they’re nearly indestructible,” said Consumer Reports Health editor Kevin Loria.

Many have been linked to potentially harmful health effects, including decreased fertility, weakened immune system response, and increased risk for certain cancers.

CAVA, Freshii, and Sweetgreen have pledged to make changes.

“CAVA says it will eliminate PFAS in food packaging by mid-2021. Freshii plans to roll out PFAS-free bowls in early 2021, if not sooner. And Sweetgreen plans to be PFAS-free by the end of this year,” said Loria.

More traditional fast food restaurants were also found to be serving some of your favorite guilty pleasures in packaging likely treated with PFAS, like the cardboard container for McDonald’s Big Mac and the wrapper for Burger King’s Whopper.

Other packaging found to contain fluorine include a french fry bag from McDonald’s, a chicken nuggets bag from Burger King and cookie bags from Burger King, McDonald’s, and Wendy’s.

Consumer Reports says Burger King and Wendy’s did not respond to their request for a comment. McDonald’s said it had eliminated significant classes of PFAS, and added: “We know there is more progress to be made across the industry, and we are exploring opportunities with our supplier partners to go further.”

PFAS are also used in non-stick pans, waterproofing gear and firefighting foam. They're also used to make carpets and fabrics stain and water resistant. But consumer groups say the manufacturing, use of and disposal of these products, along with food packaging could be exposing us all both directly and indirectly.