Food Safety

Published on December 6th, 2010 | by Heather Carr


Perfluorinated Chemicals in Fast Food Wrappers

Perfluorinated chemicals tend to stick around in the environment for a long time. They also stay in the human body. Several years ago, the chemical industry began to phase out perfluorinated chemicals. Why, then, are there increasing concentrations of some of them?

Perfluorinated chemicals are used in things like Teflon coatings, varnishes, stain-resistant carpet – things that need to resist liquids or grease. We come into contact with these things on a daily basis.

After the chemical industry decided to phase out these chemicals, concentrations of most of them decreased. But not all. Perfluorooctanoate continued to stick around and even increase in some cases, even though it was one of the chemicals being used less and less.

Perfluorooctanoate is carcinogenic and it affects immune function and hormone levels.  A study on mice indicated it could contribute to weight gain in middle age.

A study by Jessica C. D’eon and Scott A. Mabury of the University of Toronto examined polyfluoroalkyl phosphate esters and found that they can be metabolized in the body to become perfluorooctanoate.

Where can polyfluoroalkyl phosphate esters be found? In a lot of things, but mostly in fast food wrappers – those slick paper wrappings that keep the mayonnaise and ketchup from soaking through and getting everywhere.

It probably doesn’t surprise you to hear that fast food wrappers contain chemicals that aren’t good for you. However, I was a bit surprised to find out that the wrappers were contributing anything to my diet, only to the amount of trash I generate. Some fast food companies are looking at reusable containers, which may be a good way to get away from these chemicals.

The amount of polyfluoroalkyl phosphate esters absorbed from a single fast food wrapper is not enough to make anyone sick, so don’t fret if you just got back from a drive-thru. The chemicals do stay in the body for a long time, though. It’s just another reason, besides fat and calories, to limit intake of fast food.

Source: D’eon JC, Mabury SA 2010. Exploring Indirect Sources of Human Exposure to Perfluoroalkyl Carboxylates (PFCAs): Evaluating Uptake, Elimination and Biotransformation of Polyfluoroalkyl Phosphate Esters (PAPs) in the Rat. Environ Health Perspect :-. doi:10.1289/ehp.1002409

Image by ebruli, used with Creative Commons license.

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About the Author

Heather Carr loves food, politics, and innovative ways to make the world a better place. She counts Jacques Pepin and Speed Racer among her inspirations. You can find her on Facebook or .

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