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Skip the Big Mac – Some fast food wrappers contain toxic chemicals

Fresh hamburger on a bun in a carton box

We all know we should take a pass on fast food for healthier options. But now there’s a whole new layer to consider other than calories and fat.

Toxic chemicals may be coating wrappers and containers used at popular fast-food restaurants according to a recent report released by environmental advocacy groups Toxic-Free Future and Mind the Store. The report included concerning test results that showed food wrappers testing positive for fluorine, which indicates the presence of PFAS. 

PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, refers to a class of chemicals that are used widely in homes and businesses to make items resistant to water or fire. These highly toxic fluorine-containing substances are sometimes called “forever chemicals:” they build up in our bodies and never break down in the environment. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), exposure to these chemicals has been linked to cancer, reproductive and immune system harm, and other diseases. Despite these health hazards, hundreds of everyday products that contain PFAS. 

The report, “Packaged in Pollution: Are food chains using PFAS in packaging?” analyzed packaging from six national food chains, including top fast-food chains Burger King, McDonald’s, and Wendy’s as well as top health-minded food chains like Freshii .  

Researchers found fluorine in packaging for the Whopper at Burger King and in the packaging used for the chain’s chicken nuggets and cookies. Fluorine was also found in McDonald’s wrappers for its Big Mac sandwich, fries and cookies, and in the paper bags used at Wendy’s. These chemicals were even discovered on "environmentally friendly" containers as well as other bowls and to-go boxes used in restaurants that market themselves as healthy and eco-conscious.  

Mounting evidence on the dangers of PFAS exposure has led to the passage of restrictions on PFAS in food packaging over the last few years in some cities and states, including here in Washington State. 

“There is more progress to be made and we are exploring opportunities to ensure that food is packaged with PFAS-free wrappers in King County,” said Haz Waste Program Policy Manager Ashley Pedersen.  

Recently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) committed to eliminating the use of select synthetic chemicals used in food packaging materials in the next few years. However, FDA continues to allow the use of many PFAS.  

Learn more about our work to improve policies and regulations that impact the creation, use, and end-of-life management of hazardous products.

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