People who eat fast food, takeaway meals, or eat often at restaurants have higher levels of PFAS in their bodies, a study found.
Exposure to harmful PFAS chemicals can be easily diminished if the meals are prepared at home instead of eating fast foods or takeaways.
A further benefit of cooking is avoiding processed foods and appreciating healthy ingredients used in home-made meals.
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also known as perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), are a class of toxic compounds that cause serious damage to humans.
PFAS have been associated with weight gain, decrease in fertility, thyroid dysfunction, liver and kidney damage, immune suppression, and cancer.
They are largely used in consumer products such as waterproof, nonstick, and stain-resistant cookware, carpeting, and cleaning materials.
PFAS are also used in food packaging such as burger wrappers and pastry bags, popcorn bags, french fries and pizza boxes.
Researchers, after analysing 10,106 participants’ diet and their blood samples, found that those whose meals were prepared at home had much lower amounts of PFAS in their bodies.
On the other hand, PFAS levels were high in those who ate often at restaurants or ate more ready meals and fast food, such as pizza.
This suggests that restaurant food, take-out and fast food is most likely contaminated with PFAS due to direct food contact with their packaging.
Dr Laurel Schaider, study co-author, said:
“These chemicals have been linked with numerous health problems, so it’s concerning that people are potentially exposed to them in food.
Exposure to some PFASs has been associated with cancer, thyroid disease, immune suppression, low birth weight, and decreased fertility.
Children are especially at risk for health effects because their developing bodies are more vulnerable to toxic chemicals.”
One third of American adults and children eat pizza or other fast food every day.
The study also found that microwave popcorn consumers had much higher amounts of PFAS in their blood.
Contamination of popcorn with PFAS occurs as the chemicals are leaching out of the packaging.
Because of health and environmental issues, manufacturers have started to use different materials instead of long-chain PFAS for food packaging.
However, the replacements contain other compounds such as BPA and phthalates, which are endocrine-disrupting chemicals, meaning they are able to disrupt, interfere or mimic hormonal action.
These chemicals can cause health problems such as decreased fertility and pregnancy loss.
Therefore, experts are suggesting that all these chemicals should be restricted.
Ms Kathryn Rodgers, study co-author, said:
“The general conclusion here is the less contact your food has with food packaging, the lower your exposures to PFAS and other harmful chemicals.
These latest findings will hopefully help consumers avoid these exposures and spur manufacturers to develop safer food packaging materials.”
About the author
Mina Dean is a Nutritionist and Food Scientist. She holds a BSc in Human Nutrition and an MSc in Food Science.
The study was published in Environmental Health Perspectives (Susmann et al., 2019).