Wrappers and Packaging at These 10 Fast Food Restaurants May Be Hazardous

fast food

Fast food packaging may be harmful to your health. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

You’d assume the fast food burger you ate for lunch is more dangerous than the wrapper it came in. But that may not necessarily be the case. While the FDA and other regulation agencies run a fairly tight ship, there’s always room for something to slip by. In this case, fluorine and PFCs — which can be dangerous — are in a big percentage of food packaging and wrappers.

A report from the Environmental Working Group has listed out more than two dozen restaurants that have these compounds in their packaging.

Just what in the hell are PFCs and fluorine? PFC (also called PFAS), per the Environmental Working Group, stands for perfluorinated chemicals. Some PFCs are linked to increased cancer risk, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences says, as well as other health ills. They’re typically used in manufacturing to create non-stick surfaces, which makes them attractive as agents in food packaging.

Fluorine and PFC

Fast food meal on packaging

Some packaging contains dangerous chemicals. | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The EWG study tested food packaging for evidence of fluorine content with eye-opening results. Keep in mind, however, a positive test for fluorine doesn’t automatically mean harmful PFCs are present. But the two are associated.

It’s important to note the restaurants and companies listed in the report are operating within the bounds of the law, and obviously aren’t trying to hurt anyone. “The FDA has approved 20 next-generation PFCs specifically for coating paper and paperboard used to serve food,” an EWG press release reads. “These chemicals have not been adequately tested for safety, and trade secrecy laws mean that, in some cases, the limited safety data submitted to the EPA does not publicly disclose the identity of the specific chemicals or even the companies submitting them for approval.”

The complete list contains more restaurants (27 in all) than you’ll see on the following pages, but we selected 10 that are among the most popular and widespread. As the study notes, the testing and corresponding data “includes wrappers for sandwiches, burritos, etc.; bags for fried foods, chips and pastries; pizza and chicken boxes; and other paper items used to serve food. Samples were collected from 2014 to 2015 from fast food outlets in and around Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington, D.C., and Grand Rapids, [Michigan].”

There’s something else very important to take into consideration, too. “It is possible that some papers that tested positive were not intentionally coated with the chemicals, but were made partly from recycled paper containing PFCs or were contaminated during manufacture,” the press release says.

Here are 10 fast food or fast-casual restaurants that were found to have PFC or fluorine in their food packaging.

1. Burger King

Kids eating at Burger King

Burger King’s packaging could be trouble. | Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP/Getty Images

Burger King isn’t quite the fast food powerhouse it once was, Paste points out, but its Whopper and other tasty items still drive a good amount of customers through the door — or drive-through. According to the study, 37% of the chain’s 37 tested food wrappers contained fluorine.

2. Chick-fil-A

A Chick-fil-A logo is seen on a take out bag at one of its restaurants

This fast food favorite may be dangerous. | Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Chicken joint Chick-fil-A has wormed its way into the hearts of millions, becoming a fast food favorite of many Americans, CNN Money reports. So, should you worry about chemical contaminants in the company’s packaging? It appears so — though the study only looked at five Chick-fil-A wrappers, four of them tested positive for fluorine.

3. Jimmy John’s

The logo and sign of a Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwich Shop

Jimmy John’s packaging contains fluorine. | iStock.com/carterdayne

One of America’s favorite sandwich chains, Jimmy John’s has a rather dubious distinction. Of the nine packaging items tested, all of them contained fluorine. That’s a rate of 100%, for those counting.

4. Chipotle

Chipotle restaurant workers fill orders for customers

Chipotle has healthy choices, but what about its packaging? | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Chipotle has grown into one of the country’s premiere fast-casual eateries. Marketing to those who wish to eat ethically and healthy, Chipotle’s take on Mexican food has clearly struck a chord. But it’s food packaging may not be up to snuff. The study tested 17 of Chipotle’s wrappers, finding fluorine in 65% of them.

5. Subway

A man eating fresh at Subway

Be careful of Subway. | Scott Olson/Getty Images

Subway has grown to become one of the most widespread chains in America, according to QSR Magazine. No matter where you are, odds are there’s a Subway nearby. Of the 19 wrappers the study tested, 42% of them came back positive for fluorine.

6. Panera

Panera storefront

Panera has some issues with their packaging. | Scott Olson/Getty Images

Panera is another chain, like Chipotle, that has seemingly sprouted up everywhere over the past few years. Though it’s food is billed as hearty and nutritious, it’s packaging appears to have issues with PFC content. The study tested 23 of the chain’s wrappers, with 43% of them testing positive.

7. Dunkin’ Donuts

A Dunkin' Donuts cup

A Dunkin’ Donuts cup may not be entirely safe. | flickr.com/photos/consumerist/

America runs on Dunkin’ — and on PFC and fluorine. Of the 12 Dunkin’ Donuts packages tested, one-third, or 33%, tested positive.

8. KFC

KFC chicken and bucket, which tests positive for fluorine

KFC chicken isn’t healthy — and neither is its packaging. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

President Donald Trump is a big fan of KFC (when eaten properly, of course). Even he won’t be stoked to learn about the contaminants in the company’s packaging. A quarter of the 20 packages tested revealed traces of fluorine.

9. Taco Bell

store sign at a Taco Bell

Taco Bell is problematic. |Saul Loeb/Getty Images

Everybody loves Taco Bell. Even loyal fans are likely to be bummed, however, when they see these results. The study looked at 28 wrappers, finding 43% of them were potentially problematic.

10. Starbucks

Starbucks cups, which evidently have high PFC content

Starbucks cups evidently have high PFC content. | iStock.com/monticelllo

Even your morning coffee isn’t immune from PFC and fluorine. Starbucks, which also offers a wide variety of food choices, had a very high percentage of its wrappers test positive. Of the 21 packaging samples tested, 76% of them came back positive.

Read more about the Environmental Working Group and its PFC study here.