Your Pizza Is Probably a Greater Threat to Your Health Than Ebola


Bad news, pizza fans: The box your pizza came in could be a greater threat to your health than Ebola. 

Pizza boxes (and other kinds of food packaging) harbor what are called perfluorochemicals or PFCs. Manufacturers employ PFCs for several reasons, but the primary role of PFCs is to make products resistant to water and grease.

PFCs are dangerous, though. How dangerous? Dangerous enough that even retailers like H&M won't sell clothing containing PFCs. As the Washington Post reported, PFCs have been linked to thyroid dysfunction, slowed prenatal and postnatal brain development, and testicular degeneration.

So what is it doing in food packaging?

In 2011, the FDA banned the substance due to its ill effects. However, food suppliers are still allowed to import pizza boxes containing the chemicals from overseas. The imported pizza boxes, as well as other kinds of food packaging, also contain perchlorate, a hazardous chemical pollutant that's used in the sealing for food containers and as an antistatic agent.

Does this mean we have to stop eating pizza? No, not unless you want to, anyway. What it does mean is that we might want to be paying attention to two recent petitions filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). One asks the FDA to prohibit the use of perchlorate in food packaging. The other asks the FDA to amend its ruling on PFCs so that food companies can no longer use packaging containing PFCs period, regardless of where it's from.

The NRDC petition protesting perchlorates cites studies noting the chemical is fairly ubiquitous in dry-food packing. The most alarming part is that perchlorate has made its way into baby formula packaging. The petition noted why that's harmful: 

"If the formula packaging used the perchlorate as an antistatic agent to allow the powder to flow more fully and freely from the container, then the infant would have much greater exposure to perchlorate. Also, infants and children consume more food per body weight than adults, adding to a higher exposure."

The petition about PFCs discusses the FDA oversight that allows companies to get away with using PFC-laden packaging. According to the petition, there are "significant gaps in our knowledge of the safety of long-chain perfluorocarboxylates" in regards to how it affects our health. 

Like perchlorates, PFCs also have a detrimental effect on fetal and infant development. Studies cited in the petition found PFCs could be responsible for decreased fetal body weight, "skeletal variations," delayed hair growth and other symptoms.

Why does this matter? Until recently, we were completely oblivious to how polluted with chemical garbage our food was. 

Below is a picture of a rubber yoga mat. 

Anne Larie Valentine/Flickr

Why a yoga mat? Because the same chemical found in yoga mats, azodicarbonamide, is found in many fast food dishes. This chemical is also used in shoe rubber and pleather. And it's in your food. 

Subway took the most heat for offering up "yoga mat sandwiches" but they weren't the only ones engaged in chemical chicanery. McDonald's, Hardy's, Wendy's and other fast food purveyors were just as guilty. 

The public became more wary of fast food, or at least of McDonald's, after they realized the extent to which fast food wasn't food at all. Its sales in Asia and the United States are down. Its share price has fallen over the last few months.

To counteract the negative PR, McDonald's commenced a massive ad campaign to prove their food wasn't fake (which Time picked apart). They even hired Grant Imahara, one of the former hosts of Mythbusters, to shine light on the golden arches.

But instead of focusing on pizza boxes and shoe-rubber hamburgers, we're caught up in racism-fueled hysteria over Ebola, a disease that has only killed one person on American soil so far. Obesity and poor nutrition will kill an estimated 300,000 in the United States this year alone. It's time to start focusing on more present dangers.