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Chuck Schumer Demands FDA Investigation Into Fast-Food Packaging

The senator wants the agency to take a closer look at phthalates

Photo Illustration by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Compelling arguments can certainly be made for both the convenience and general tastiness of fast food, but few attempt to suffer the illusion that it’s actually healthy. But what about the packaging said food comes wrapped in — could that actually be worse than the greasy, deep-fried and/or cheese-covered foodstuffs within?

Chuck Schumer, the Democratic Senator from New York and current Senate Minority Leader, is pressing the FDA to investigate whether fast-food packaging is harmful to human health. In a letter to the FDA released over the weekend, Schumer asked the agency to take a closer look at the health effects of phthalates, substances found in packaging such as burger wrappers and cups that are used to make plastic more flexible.

Schumer pointed out that phthalates have been banned from use in other applications such as children’s toys and baby bottles, noting that previous studies have linked them to various conditions such as insulin resistance in children and premature births.

“To think that we have all this data on phthalate chemicals from doctors, scientists, health experts and other industries just sitting around, frozen like a beef patty and begging for the FDA to take it to the next appropriate level of scrutiny is worrisome for the consumer,” Schumer said via press release. “The studies are clear: the link between these chemicals does have an impact on the body, and not a very good one. That is why I am asking the FDA to launch a formal investigation into the fast food products that wrap our burgers or subs, hold our drinks and contain our leftovers.”

A recent New York Times story about phthalates in boxed mac and cheese set off a wave of minor panic amongst parents, suddenly guilt-stricken about feeding their kids from the iconic blue box for dinner. But as numerous publications including The Atlantic subsequently pointed out, these claims are somewhat sensationalized: The amount of phthalates that leech into food from packaging is quite small, and the quantities of the substances that would need to be consumed to even approach anything resembling toxicity levels would be very high.

Experts do seem to agree that the effects of phthalates could be cause for concern for people who consume a lot of them — though anyone who’s eating enough fast food to be concerned about their phthalate levels should probably be more worried about the health effects of all that grease and sodium instead.

Neither McDonald’s nor Taco Bell immediately responded to a request for comment on the presence of phthalates in their packaging.

Schumer Puts in Order for FDA Investigation Into Fast Food Packaging [Press Release]
The Chemicals in Your Mac and Cheese [New York Times]