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Toxic Chemicals Could Be Extra “Flavoring” In Microwave Popcorn

Popcorn is one of the healthiest foods to eat. It’s low-fat (if you skip the butter) and it has lots of fiber. But new testing shows that depending on how it’s prepared, a healthy bowl of popcorn could come with an extra flavoring of toxic perfluorinated chemicals.

A new study by the Washington State Department of Ecology found fluorinated chemicals in 100% of microwave popcorn bags they tested. Previous studies have shown these greaseproof chemicals can leach into popcorn. In one study researchers found the highest migration of the chemicals from food packaging into food was from microwave popcorn bags.

It’s not just microwave popcorn bags. A study published last week found one-third of fast food packaging contained fluorinated chemicals. Nearly half of wrappers used for items like burgers and pastries, and 20 percent of boxes used for items like pizza and fries, tested positive for fluorinated chemicals.

Popularity in Food Packaging Raises Concerns

Long a source of concern to scientists because of their remarkable persistence, PFAS chemicals are used in food packaging to keep the grease from leaking out. These properties make them great for keeping stains off furniture and water from soaking our clothes. The fact that these chemicals are all too common in food packaging is concerning. Some PFAS compounds are linked to a variety of health effects, including cancer, low birth rate, and thyroid disease.

In early 2016, the federal Food and Drug Administration banned the use of several PFAS chemicals in food packaging. However, variations of the banned chemicals are still widely used, and today many food wrappers, bags, and boxes are coated with this new generation of PFAS.

Washington State Could Take Action

Luckily, Washington state has the opportunity to take action and eliminate these chemicals from food packaging. The Healthy Food Packaging Act (HB 1744), sponsored by Rep. McBride (D-Redmond), would ban the use of these chemicals from materials used to package foods, including microwave popcorn bags.

Update (2020): HB 1744 was reintroduced and retained in present status in the house environment committee.

How to Reduce Your Exposure

Until companies stop using these chemicals in food packaging, you can reduce your exposure by following these tips:

  • Eat fresh foods whenever possible.
  • Stay away from greasy or oily packaged and fast foods, as the packages often contain grease-repellent coatings. Examples include french fry boxes, microwave popcorn bags, bakery wrappers, and hamburger wrappers.
  • If you do eat fast food, remove the food from the packaging as soon as possible to minimize contact with the packaging.