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Report Finds PFAS Chemicals In One-Third of Fast Food Packaging (cnn.com) 122

dryriver quotes CNN: Most of the time, when you order fast food, you know exactly what you're getting: an inexpensive meal that tastes great but is probably loaded with fat, cholesterol and sodium. But it turns out that the packaging your food comes in could also have a negative impact on your health, according to a report published Wednesday in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters. The report found fluorinated chemicals in one-third of the fast food packaging researchers tested.

These chemicals are favored for their grease-repellent properties. Along with their use in the fast food industry, fluorinated chemicals -- sometimes called PFASs -- are used "to give water-repellant, stain-resistant, and non-stick properties to consumer products such as furniture, carpets, outdoor gear, clothing, cosmetics (and) cookware," according to a news release that accompanied the report. "The most studied of these substances (PFOSs and PFOAs) has been linked to kidney and testicular cancer, elevated cholesterol, decreased fertility, thyroid problems and changes in hormone functioning, as well as adverse developmental effects and decreased immune response in children."

The chemicals can migrate into your food, says one of the study's authors, who suggests removing it from the packaging as quickly as possible. (You might also request your french fries in a paper cup, which are free from "chemicals of concern".) But they also suggest pressuring fast food chains to remove the chemicals from their packaging, and the president of the Foodservice Packaging Institute acknowledges that after the study concluded in 2015, fluorochemical-free packaging was introduced.
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Report Finds PFAS Chemicals In One-Third of Fast Food Packaging

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  • by Mr D from 63 ( 3395377 ) on Sunday February 05, 2017 @10:47AM (#53806883)

    The most studied of these substances has been linked....

    As usual, the key information to know the extent of the potential problem is missing. So, we know that there is a study out there that shows a possible link between one of these substances and health problems.

    How much exposure required to show a link? What is the elevation in risk for common intake from packaging? How much of the studied substance is actually in use vs other substances?

    There hardly appears to be enough information to make any recommendations.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      That sounds like a pretty standard "Ban X Now" hit piece. Strong on potential effect light on detail.

      You are exactly right in asking those questions. Any of them can make this a 'so what' issue but then there is no news item painting fast food in a negative light

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      EHP Article [slashdot.org]
      tl;dr
      health data was collected from community residents in 2005 and 2006 and from a follow-up medical survey of these participants between 2008 and 2011. They also included data from 4,391 DuPont workers. For each worker and resident, the authors estimated lifetime cumulative PFOA serum levels based on factors including drinking water source, tap water consumption, and any employment at the DuPont plant.
      Of 32,507 individuals in the current study, 2,507 had primary cancers of 21 different types th

    • So, are "the most studied of these substances" the ones they're finding in fast-food wrappers? Or is this just a bit of scare-mongering?
      • Of course not. From TFA:
        "These are long-chain PFASs that have largely been phased out, in favor of shorter-chain compounds that are thought to have shorter half-lives in the human body, but these shortened forms have not yet been thoroughly studied."

        Maybe the shorter chain compounds have similar effects and maybe they leave the body faster. Or maybe not. We don't know.

        The logical thing would be to demand a study of the compounds that are in use, but good luck getting that with budgets being cut and infor

    • by plover ( 150551 )

      It sounds like they're describing ScotchGard, a surface treatment whose key ingredient was PFOS.

      As far as your other questions, measuring direct contact of one burger wrapper with one person's blood levels isn't how these studies are typically done. There are too many variables: how long was the food in contact with the wrapper, how much surface area of the wrapper actually came in contact with how much surface area of the food, what kind of food, how many liquids from the food soaked into the paper and w

      • As far as your other questions, measuring direct contact of one burger wrapper with one person's blood levels isn't how these studies are typically done.

        I wasn't suggesting it is. But they certainly can study the amount of these chemicals that migrates into the food under typical circumstances. And yes, since the levels are likely so low its difficult to measure, that should be taken into account before jumping to the 'ban' gun as you suggest. We certainly don't ban everything that has potential health risks.

        • And yes, since the levels are likely so low its difficult to measure, that should be taken into account before jumping to the 'ban' gun as you suggest. We certainly don't ban everything that has potential health risks.

          The problem with the chemicals in question is that they are known to accumulate in the environment, and there is increasing evidence that their presence in drinking water, etc. can cause serious problems. And the studies that had been used to create previous recommended drinking water standards were basically knowingly corrupted by DuPont, a primary manufacturer. You may want to look up the cases against DuPont and Rob Bilott, the primary attorney who has litigated these cases (who actually used to work a

      • ScotchGard was never used to treat food wrappers

        Can you provide hard evidence of this? How do you know fast food chains are not wrapping their burgers in carpet? Have you ever tasted fast food?

  • And? (Score:5, Informative)

    by ledow ( 319597 ) on Sunday February 05, 2017 @11:05AM (#53806957) Homepage

    What's inside the plastic wrapping is going to kill you quicker than whatever the wrapping is made of.

    Or, otherwise, we'd pretty much all be dead by now.

    Sure, start phasing it out, like thousands of things before it, but it's not an end-of-the-world, evil-fast-food-chain, profiteering-bastards kind of story at all.

    Hell, I remember when McDonald's burgers came in a polystyrene box. They changed that and it's now a card-thing with shiny outside. I'm sure those things were always marked as "food-safe" or they'd have been in court a million times by now because of it.

    But our idea of food-safe changes as knowledge increases. I wouldn't be surprised if we ended up going back to polystyrene boxes at some point, we're bound to find out that something older and abandoned actually wasn't all that bad or we can now make it without it being bad.

    But the tone of the summary/story is quite heavily in the "OH MY GOD WE'RE ALL GOING TO DIE" section. When actually the story is more like "Huh, there's a tiny chance this could very slightly statistically be worse for you that paper. Oh well, let's change that, but it's not worth panicking and trying to do that overnight. Let's just phase it out for something slightly better."

    Hell, they banned fish and chip shops in the UK from using newspaper for wrapping the food in, which they always did in my father's day, because of the ink in the paper being not ideal to wrap a greasy load of fried fish and potato into. But try and point to someone who died or was taken ill as a result and you'd be hard pressed to come up with anything at all.

    And then, ironically, they all started using polystyrene and plastics, which we're now telling them are bad for the environment and they should go back to paper, and recycled paper at that...

    • Re:And? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by gtall ( 79522 ) on Sunday February 05, 2017 @11:41AM (#53807075)

      "But try and point to someone who died or was taken ill as a result and you'd be hard pressed to come up with anything at all."

      What matters are statistics. Point to someone who died from a chemical spill, hard to do. Point to a community with elevated cancer rates, not so hard.

      • by Kohath ( 38547 )

        By the same token, that's also how you can tell whether your town's witches are actively casting their cancer spells.

    • What's inside the plastic wrapping is going to kill you quicker than whatever the wrapping is made of.

      Fair point. But when I first read about this topic, and looked up what these chemicals are & what they're used for, 1st thought was: "What the F#$K are these chemicals doing near our food in the first place? And even more, in food packaging?". I simply don't understand.

      It seems compounds like this could be an ingredient in cleaning agents. Okay, as a producer you may have issues with washing the reminder of cleaning agents such that traces remain & get in the food processed. But if that

    • Re:And? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Razed By TV ( 730353 ) on Sunday February 05, 2017 @12:06PM (#53807157)

      What's inside the plastic wrapping is going to kill you quicker than whatever the wrapping is made of.

      The most studied of these substances (PFOSs and PFOAs) has been linked to kidney and testicular cancer, elevated cholesterol, decreased fertility, thyroid problems and changes in hormone functioning, as well as adverse developmental effects and decreased immune response in children.

      When there is an obesity epidemic, its worth considering what role the packaging may be playing in messing with hormones and thyroid function, both of which can lead to weight gain.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        When there is an obesity epidemic, you should start to seriously question the policies of the last 2-3 generations worth of government bodies who decided they could make people better. Like the war on fats.

    • Cancer rates doubled during the industrial revolution, much more than could be accounted for by increases in lifespan that happened for some classes around the same time. One wonders (okay, I wonder) what they would be like today without all this probably-carcinogenic (and known-carcinogenic) plastic involved.

      Obviously, in some cases we really depend on plastics, and I'm not suggesting it should all go away. In [most] other cases, glass is a lot better, and we should use it instead of plastic.

      • by ledow ( 319597 )

        And life expectancy - and overall deaths - nearly halved in most developed countries at the same time.

        Cancer is what happens to you when nothing else kills you - it's quite literally a lottery on every cell replication as to whether it mutates badly or not. And over time, you WILL get and die of cancer if nothing else does.

        Blaming increasing lifespan, which means more people die of cancer, on the presence or invention of plastic is actually good evidence FOR plastic. Such as - how do you sterilise or clea

        • by ledow ( 319597 )

          Life expectancy DOUBLED and overall deaths HALVED. Sorry, I mis-edited that line.

  • Inform me of the risks.

    Let me choose to patronize restaurants that give me safer-to-eat food or food in packaging that is less likely to leak grease or mayo through the wrapper.

    If enough people demand safe-to-eat food, the other packaging will disappear.

    If enough people demand water-and-grease-repellant packaging, the other kind will disappear.

    In general, the market decide.

    I'm willing to budge and go "nanny state" when it comes to food marketed towards minors and food that is sold in "captive/concession-con

    • Let me choose to patronize restaurants that give me safer-to-eat food or food in packaging that is less likely to leak grease or mayo through the wrapper.

      If they're giving you your food in a wrapper, it's not a restaurant.

    • by gtall ( 79522 ) on Sunday February 05, 2017 @11:42AM (#53807079)

      Let's eliminate airline regulations. If enough people die, then they'll stop flying or the planes will be made safer. It'll a be a bit late for the dead people, but then Ayn Rand followers can wax poetical on the magic of the markets.

      • by Kohath ( 38547 )

        Yeah, because making sensible, balanced choices is absolutely impossible. If a bureau has 1000 regulators, the only possible choices are increasing it to 2000 or going down to zero. No way could you eliminate 1% of the regulations and go to 990 regulators. Because ... um, Ayn Rand or Somalia or business leaders all being comic book supervillains or some other strawman. This stuff is super insightful. Kudos.

    • by sjames ( 1099 )

      The problem is that people will assume that if it's used in the fast food industry, it isn't something that will give your kids cancer by the time they're 50. They also won't know that the grease proof wrapper is an endocrine disrupter. You can bet when asking which wrapping you want the cashier won't ask "would you like to super-size your prostate?".

  • If you expected any better from these mega-food corporations then you've set yourself up for disappointment.
  • by swell ( 195815 ) <jabberwock@@@poetic...com> on Sunday February 05, 2017 @12:16PM (#53807201)

    For my part, I'll gradually reduce the packaging material I eat. By the end of March of this year I hope to maintain a 20% reduction. Assuming no serious withdrawal symptoms, I may cut consumption of packaging material in half by the end of the year. Wish me luck!

  • As we move into the era of 'less regulation', what difference does it make, nothing will be done about it.

  • If you're eating at fast food restaurants you're not worried about your health, so this is truly a non-story.

  • One must have severely damaged taste-buds to consider that fast food tastes even remotely '0K'.
    If you are used drinking water, eating fresh, lightly seasoned, food (home made, or from a good restaurant), ...
    then fast-food tastes like mouth-burning salty/acidic sponge (or sole, depending on the "meal").
    Of course, if one is used to fast-food and sodas then water and proper food is probably taste-less : after all, one gets used to pain.

    • What is this "lightly seasoned" bullcrap? I have a colleague who refuses to use any salt in his cooking, and you can tell simply by looking at him, how miserable his food tastes.

      Season your food so it tastes right, the seasonings have no health impact*, so go hog wild. Making otherwise bland food taste palatable is good. Fat carries a lot of flavor, but is also high in calories. Remove the fat, and you remove a lot of taste, but you can compensate for this by using spices. As a side effect, really spicy foo

  • Own up, who has been wiping used hamburger wrappers on their testicles? You have no-one to blame but yourselves.
  • All the fast food chains around here had already switched to paper years ago... where is this actually still a problem? Which types of packages/materials are actually still being used that even require a non-stick coating, and which actual restaurant chains are still using them?

The only possible interpretation of any research whatever in the `social sciences' is: some do, some don't. -- Ernest Rutherford

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