People who regularly eat out have higher levels of chemicals found in food packaging in their body, finds study
These chemicals can hamper development, immune function and reproduction as well as injure the kidney and liver and may also cause cancer. The healthy alternative is to eat home-cooked food, suggest scientists
People who love to dig into fast food and takeaways are putting themselves in harm's way. A study has found that we unwittingly consume toxic chemicals found in food packaging while eating these foods. Eating home-cooked food may be a safer option, for those wanting to keep their blood chemical levels low.
Scientists from the Silent Spring Institute investigated the presence of PFAS (per and polyfluoroalkyl substances) in humans. These chemicals are commonly used in food packaging such as greaseproof wrappers and in nonstick, stain-resistant, and waterproof products, including carpeting, cookware and outdoor apparel.
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, these chemicals can hamper development, immune function and reproduction as well as injure the kidney and liver, and may also cause cancer.
Chemicals like PFAS are known to leach into the human body, a portion of which also enters landfills, contaminating both soil and groundwater.
"This is the first study to observe a link between different sources of food and PFAS exposures in the US population," says co-author Laurel Schaider, PhD, an environmental chemist at Silent Spring.
"Our results suggest the migration of PFAS chemicals from food packaging into food which can be an important source of exposure to these chemicals."
Previously, researchers found PFAS in nearly half of all paper wrappers used by fast-food establishments, more specifically, in burger wrappers and cookie pouches. Additionally, they showed that pizza boxes also contain these chemicals.
In this study, scientists looked at the data collected from 10,106 participants of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey — conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — to monitor the health and nutrition status of the US population.
The survey turned out to be a goldmine, allowing them to examine data from two different sources. The first source was information on participants' diet collected from detailed questionnaires, and the second source was access to blood samples, where they checked for PFAS traces in their blood.
The study, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, provides evidence that home-cooked food shields people from the harmful effects of these chemicals.
They found that people who eat meals at home had significantly lower levels of PFAS in the blood, while those consuming fast food or those who ate frequently at restaurants, had higher levels.
Regularly eating microwaved popcorn can also increase exposure to these chemicals, according to the study. The most likely cause, researchers say, is that PFAS from popcorn bags finds its way into popcorn.
The team of scientists detected four PFAS chemicals in participants' blood samples and in popcorn, all of which have been previously found in microwave popcorn bags.
"This suggests that fast food and food from other restaurants is more likely to be contaminated with PFAS, which may be due to greater contact with PFAS-containing food packaging, " scientists say in the study.
Newscientist reported that it is unclear what the long-term effects of PFAS exposure are because the survey only asks about recent dietary habits, and some of these chemicals can stay in the body for years.
Denmark is the first country to ban PFAS. In the US, Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro has called for a ban recently. She says that more than 4,000 PFAS chemicals are now in circulation and over 60 are currently used in an array of food containers.
It is reported that the adverse health effects of PFAS are becoming increasingly clear, yet there are only a few studies that investigate the impact of PFAS on health. The FDA considers these chemicals safe and has approved them, reveals DeLauro.
Earlier this year, in June, DeLauro and her colleague approached the Government Accountability Office to review the US Food and Drug Administration's oversight of food additives. "These are forever chemicals. They do not break down," she said adding, "the health of our families comes first."