Fast-food warning: your takeout is leaching banned chemicals

New study by the Environmental Working Group in the U.S. found that a third of grease-repelling takeout wrappers and boxes from 27 fast-food chains contained PFCs



Hungry for a sub or a slice? Or maybe just a muffin? If you’re grabbing that to go, you might want to ask your server to hold the packaging.

According to new joint study by a handful of U.S. non-profits, universities and state and federal agencies, about a third of grease-repelling takeout wrappers and boxes contain potentially harmful chemicals.

Not even next-generation food packaging has been adequately tested for safety, says the Environmental Working Group, one of the non-profits behind the study.

EWG points to documents chemical giant DuPont filed with the Environmental Protection Agency reporting that a new grease-resistant chem called GenX contributed to cancerous tumours of the pancreas and testicles, liver damage, kidney disease and reproductive harm in lab animals.

Researchers collected 400 samples of food wrapping paper, paperboard and drink containers from 27 fast-food chains across the U.S., including major taco, burger, pizza, chicken, sub and coffee joints. They found that half the paper wrappers and 20 per cent of the pizza, fries and chicken boxes contained fluorine, a building block for a controversial family of fluorinated non-stick chemicals (also known as PFCs or PFAs).

Some samples had traces of the persistent Teflon chem PFOA, a PFC tied to cancer that was banned as of last summer from food packaging south of the border. Quiznos, Starbucks and Chipotle had some of the highest levels.

McDonald’s and Burger King pledged to phase out PFOA well over a decade ago, and the chem can no longer be manufactured or sold in the U.S. or Canada. Past studies have found that those chems end up leaching into greasy foods in particular.

Health Canada rep Anna Maddison tells NOW there are regulatory controls on PFCs in Canada, including PFOA, “which either prohibit or restrict the manufacture, use, sale or importation of these substances or products containing them. 

“This restriction also applies to food packaging material,” she says. “Health Canada’s Food and Drug Regulations prohibit the sale of foods in packages that may impart any substance to the contents that may be harmful to the consumer of the food.”

But Environmental Defence says Health Canada still allows PFCs to be imported on goods like food wrappers from China.

Environmental Defence’s toxics program manager, Muhannad Malas, says, “As we know from the case of BPA-lined food cans [which have been found to leach BPA], Canada’s regulations do not necessarily guarantee that food contents are not contaminated with certain levels of potentially harmful chemicals found in the packaging.”

Malas says poor chemical screening remains a problem on both sides of the border.

Not only is Canada failing to keep chemicals it deems toxic, like PFOA, out of restaurants and off shelves Malas says there are serious gaps in mandating safe alternatives “so that we’re not replacing them with substances that are equally harmful.

“We need legislation to ensure that regrettable substitution doesn’t happen in the first place,” adds Malas, especially since “we know that one of the most common ways of being exposed to toxic chemicals is through our food.” 

ecoholic@nowtoronto.com | @ecoholicnation

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