Fast Food Chains Found to Have Dangerous Chemicals in Wrappers

Several fast-food restaurants came under fire for having high levels of dangerous chemicals known as PFAS were found in food packaging. Burger King, McDonald's, Nathan's Famous, Cava, Arby's, Chick-fil-A, Stop & Shop, and Sweetgreen were all listed as the culprits where the contaminated wrappings were found, according to a report from ABC Omaha. The investigative findings were released on Thursday, March 24. 

Known as "forever chemicals" because they do not break down in the environment, PFAS are used in food packaging to prevent grease and water from soaking through food wrappers and beverage cups. The new report comes more than two years into the COVID-19 pandemic. It marks a major area of concern considering the general public have relied heavily on takeout via online ordering services such as Door Dash and UberEats, as well as grocery deliveries from businesses such as Instacart and Amazon.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls exposure to PFAS a "public health concern." Previous studies found that human-made chemicals can harm the immune system. They can also reduce a person's resistance to infectious diseases.

"There is evidence from human and animal studies that PFAS exposure may reduce antibody responses to vaccines," the CDC and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry notes. "More research is needed to understand how PFAS exposure may affect illness from COVID-19."

In all, 118 food packaging products sold by 24 companies in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut contained the chemicals. The levels of the chemicals found in the packaging varied. 

"I would not urge consumers to take these brand names and only go to this one or that one, as this investigation only looked at just over 100 products," Graham Peaslee said, a professor of physics, chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. "However, this will hold industry's toes to the fire, so in that sense, I think it's a valuable report," he added. "Measuring and saying PFAS is there and it's dangerous gets people's attention, and companies tend to avoid attention like that."

The report findings came amid Toxic Free Future's Mind the Store program and its partners attempting to try and get restaurants and grocery stores to ban PFAS in food packaging. The campaign launched in 2018 with more than 75 letters requesting action to address toxic PFAS sent to the top grocery and fast-food chains in the U.S. 

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In response to the campaign, more than two dozen retailers selling food or food packaging announced plans to reduce or eliminate PFAS in food packaging at more than 100,000 stores. Such stores included are some featured in the current findings, as well as Chipotle, Panera Bread, and Popeyes.