Fast-Food Wrappers Contaminated with Toxins Can Now Be Traced

NDTV Food  |  Updated: March 30, 2017 14:52 IST

Fast-Food Wrappers Contaminated with Toxins Can Now Be Traced
  • Fast food packaging materials are making our food toxic
  • Scientists have found a new technique to trace those toxins
  • PFASs are found to be used extensively in fast-food wrapping paper
The harmful effects of junk food is no hidden secret. But did you know that even the wrappers in which they are wrapped can put you at health risk? A shocking report that did the rounds in February revealed that most fast food packaging materials contained toxic chemicals that were contaminating the food we were consuming. It particularly highlighted greaseproof papers, which contained more than two dozen highly fluorinated chemicals, including phased-out substances, which may lead to developmental problems in children, decreased fertility and an increased risk of cancer. The question on everyone's mind was how to prevent the harmful health effects of consuming junk food. Now researchers from University of Alabama and the University of Notre Dame seem to have come up with a solution.

The scientists have found a new technique by which one can trace hazardous chemicals from fast food wrappers (bread, desserts, burgers and pizzas) that enter the human body. The technique enables researchers to radiolabel three forms of perfluorinated and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS) and track the fate of these chemicals when they enter the body.

This announcement comes as a good surprise, leaving many hopeful in identifying and tracking toxic substances, particularly PFASs (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), also known as PFCs, that come mostly from older, recycled materials or other undetermined sources. They are known to be harmful to the human body and were found to be used extensively in fast-food wrapping paper at many popular chain restaurants.

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The New Technique


Tracing PFAS compounds is a difficult task. In the newly designed method, the scientists tried to do so by using radio tracers. One of the fluorine atoms on the PFAS molecule was replaced with a radioactive form of fluorine, the same radioisotope fluorine-18 that is used for medical positron emission tomography scans in hospitals around the world.

"For the first time, we have a PFAS tracer or chemical that we have tagged to see where it goes in mice," said senior author Suzanne Lapi. "Each of the tracers exhibited some degree of uptake in all of the organs and tissues of interest that were tested, including the brain. The highest uptake was observed in the liver and stomach, and similar amounts were observed in the femur and lungs."

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Exposure to PFASs is linked to kidney and testicular cancer, elevated cholesterol, decreased fertility, and thyroid problems in adults. In children, it is said to have adverse effects on growth, learning and behaviour and decreased immune response to vaccines.

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PFASs are also found in stain-resistant products, firefighting materials and nonstick cookware. They tend to easily contaminate the food.

"We are very excited about this technique, which borrows from our current work developing nuclear medicine imaging agents," said first author Jennifer Burkemper. "This work can enable rapid screening of PFAS compounds to gain key insights into their biological fate."


The study was published in the Journal of Environment Science and Technology.

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