Study: Fast Food Is Bad for You, Inside and Out

A new analysis says fast food packaging may contain harmful chemicals.

It isn’t just burgers and fries that are bad for you. A new study says even fast food packaging may be harmful to your health.

The research, out of Newton’s Silent Spring Institute, says the greaseproof wrapper or box encasing your dinner may contain harmful chemicals that can seep into your food. The study was published Wednesday in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters.

Silent Spring tested about 400 packaging samples from 27 fast food chains for fluorine, a marker for a potentially harmful class of chemicals called PFASs. Some PFASs, which are steadily being phased out in the United States, have been linked to conditions including high cholesterol, thyroid problems, cancer, immune disruption, and low infant birth weights.

Roughly half of paper wrappers and 20 percent of paperboard products, such as french fry boxes, tested positive for fluorine. The researchers also selected 20 samples to study in more depth. Generally, products that showed high levels of fluorine also had, as suspected, high levels of PFASs. The researchers found a wide range of chemical concentrations, and detected both long- and short-chain PFASs. (The latter were developed as a safer alternative to the former, but many researchers still question their impact on health.)

Six samples tested positive for a long-chain PFAS called perfluorooctanoic acid, which several U.S. manufacturers have voluntarily stopped using due to toxicity concerns.

“These chemicals have been linked with numerous health problems, so it’s concerning that people are potentially exposed to them in food,” lead author Laurel Schaider said in a statement. “Children are especially at risk for health effects because their developing bodies are more vulnerable to toxic chemicals.”

Wondering if your fast food favorite is safe? The researchers did not release chain-specific data, but they did note that Tex-Mex, bread, and dessert wrappers were the most likely to contain fluorine. Consider that next time you hit the drive-through—or, better yet, just skip it altogether.